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Trump Wants to Hand $54 Billion More to One of the World’s Biggest Drivers of Climate Catastrophe

The organization with the biggest carbon footprint continues to evade accountability.

In his proposed budget unveiled Thursday, President Trump called for dramatic cuts to initiatives aimed at combatting climate change, as well as a wide swath of social programs, to make way for a $54 billion increase in military spending.

Under his plan, the Environmental Protection Agency would be slashed by 31 percent, or $2.6 billion. According to the outline, the budget “Eliminates the Global Climate Change Initiative and fulfills the President’s pledge to cease payments to the United Nations’ (UN) climate change programs by eliminating U.S. funding related to the Green Climate Fund and its two precursor Climate Investment Funds.” The blueprint also “Discontinues funding for the Clean Power Plan, international climate change programs, climate change research and partnership programs, and related efforts.”

The move comes as no surprise for a president who once claimed that climate change is a hoax invented by China, ran on a platform of climate denialism and appointed Exxon Mobil oil tycoon Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State. However predictable, the slashing comes at a dangerous time, as NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration warn that 2016 was the hottest year on record globally, in the third straight year of record-breaking temperatures. For people across the global south, climate change is already sowing disaster. Worsening droughts have jeopardized the food supply of 36 million people in southern and Eastern Africa alone.

But Trump’s proposal is also dangerous for a less-examined reason: the U.S. military is a key climate polluter, likely the “largest organizational user of petroleum in the world,” according to a congressional report released in December 2012. Beyond its immediate carbon footprint—which is difficult to measure—the U.S. military has placed countless countries under the thumb of western oil giants. Social movements have long sounded the alarm over the link between U.S.-led militarism and climate change, yet the Pentagon continues to evade accountability.

“The Pentagon is positioned as a destroyer of the environment, war is being used as a tool to fight for extractive corporations and we now have a state department that is openly run by an oil magnate,” Reece Chenault, national coordinator for U.S. Labor Against the War, told AlterNet. “Now more than ever, we have to be really aware of the role militarism plays in climate change. We are only going to see more of that.”

The overlooked climate footprint of the U.S. military

The U.S. military has a massive carbon footprint. A report released in 2009 by the Brookings Institute determined that “the U.S. Department of Defense is the world’s single largest consumer of energy, using more energy in the course of its daily operations than any other private or public organization, as well as more than 100 nations.” Those findings were followed by the December 2012 congressional report, which states that the “DOD’s fuel costs have increased substantially over the last decade, to about $17 billion in FY2011.” Meanwhile, the Department of Defense reported that in 2014, the military emitted more than 70m tons of carbon dioxide equivalent. And according to journalist Arthur Neslen, that figure “omits facilities including hundreds of military bases overseas, as well as equipment and vehicles.”

Despite the U.S. military’s role as a major carbon polluter, states are permitted to exclude military emissions from United Nations-mandated cuts to greenhouse gas emissions, thanks to negotiations dating back to the Kyoto climate talks of 1997. As Nick Buxton of the Transnational Institute noted in a 2015 article, “Under pressure from military generals and foreign policy hawks opposed to any potential restrictions on U.S. military power, the U.S. negotiating team succeeded in securing exemptions for the military from any required reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Even though the U.S. then proceeded not to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, the exemptions for the military stuck for every other signatory nation.”

Buxton, co-editor of the book The Secure and the Dispossessed: How the Military and Corporations Are Shaping a Climate-Changed World, told AlterNet that this exemption has not changed. “There is no evidence that military emissions are now included in the IPCC guidelines because of the Paris Agreement,” he said. “The Paris Agreement does not say anything about military emissions, and the guidelines have not changed. Military emissions were not on the COP21 agenda. Emissions from military operations overseas are not included in national greenhouse gas inventories, and they are not included in the national deep decarbonization pathway plans.”

Spreading environmental harm across the globe

The American military empire, and the environmental harm it spreads, expands far beyond U.S. borders. David Vine, the author of Base Nation: How U.S. Military Bases Abroad Harm America and the World, wrote in 2015 that the United States “probably has more foreign military bases than any other people, nation, or empire in history”—numbering roughly 800. According to reporting from Nick Turse, in 2015, special operations forces were already deployed to 135 countries, or 70 percent of all the nations on the planet.

This military presence brings large-scale environmental destruction to the land and peoples across the globe through dumping, leaks, weapons testing, energy consumption, and waste. This harm was underscored in 2013 when a U.S. naval warship damaged much of the Tubbataha Reef in the Sulu Sea off the coast of the Philippines.

“The environmental destruction of Tubbataha by the presence of the U.S. military, and the lack of accountability of the U.S. Navy for their actions, only underscores how the presence of U.S. troops is poisonous to the Philippines,” Bernadette Ellorin, chairperson of BAYAN USA, said at the time. From Okinawa to Diego Garcia, this destruction goes hand-in-hand with mass displacement of and violence against local populations, including rape.

U.S.-led wars bring their own environmental horrors, as Iraq's history shows. Oil Change International determined in 2008 that between March 2003 and December 2007, the war in Iraq was responsible for “at least 141 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent.” According to report authors Nikki Reisch and Steve Kretzmann, “If the war was ranked as a country in terms of emissions, it would emit more CO2 each year than 139 of the world’s nations do annually. Falling between New Zealand and Cuba, the war each year emits more than 60 percent of all countries.”

This environmental destruction continues to the present, as U.S. bombs continue to fall on Iraq and neighboring Syria. According to a study published in 2016 in the journal Environmental Monitoring and Assessment, air pollution directly tied to war continues to poison children in Iraq, as evidenced by high levels of lead found in their teeth. Iraqi civil society organizations, including the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq and the Federation of Workers Councils and Unions in Iraq, have long been sounding the alarm on environmental degradation that is giving rise to birth defects.

Speaking at a People’s Hearing in 2014, Yanar Mohammed, president and co-founder of the Organization of Women's Freedom in Iraq, said: “There are some mothers who have three or four children who don't have limbs that work, who are totally paralyzed, their fingers fused to each other.” She continued, “There needs to be reparations for families facing birth defect and areas that have been contaminated. There needs to be cleanup.”

The link between war and big oil

The oil industry is tied to wars and conflicts around the world. According to Oil Change International, “It has been estimated that between one-quarter and one-half of all interstate wars since 1973 have been linked to oil, and that oil-producing countries are 50 percent more likely to have civil wars.”

Some of these conflicts are fought at the behest of western oil companies, in collaboration with local militaries, to quell dissent. During the 1990s, Shell, the Nigerian military and local police teamed up to slaughter Ogani people resisting oil drilling. This included a Nigerian military occupation of Oganiland, where the Nigerian military unit knows as the Internal Security Task Force is suspected of killing 2,000.

More recently, the U.S. national guard joined forces up with police departments and Energy Transfer Partners to violently quell indigenous opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline, a crackdown many water protectors called a state of war. “This country has a long and sad history of using military force against indigenous people, including the Sioux Nation,” water protectors stated in a letter sent to then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch in October 2016.

Meanwhile, the extractive industry played a key role in pillaging Iraq’s oil fields following the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. One individual who benefited financially was Tillerson, who worked at Exxon Mobil for 41 years, serving the last decade as CEO before retiring at the beginning of this year. Under his watch, the company directly profited from the U.S. invasion and occupation of the country, expanding its foothold and oilfields. As recently as 2013, farmers in Basra, Iraq, protested the company for expropriating and ruining their land. Exxon Mobil continues to operate in roughly 200 countries and is currently facing fraud investigations for financing and backing junk research promoting the denial of climate change for decades.

Climate change appears to play a role in worsening armed conflict. Research published in 2016 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found evidence that “risk of armed-conflict outbreak is enhanced by climate-related disaster occurrence in ethnically fractionalized countries.” Looking at the years 1980 to 2010, the researchers determined that “about 23 percent of conflict outbreaks in ethnically highly fractionalized countries robustly coincide with climatic calamities.”

And finally, oil wealth is central to the global arms trade, as evidenced by the heavy imports of the oil-rich Saudi government. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, “Saudi Arabia was the world’s second largest arms importer in 2012-16, with an increase of 212 percent compared with 2007–11.” During this period, the U.S. was the top major arms exporter in the world, accounting for 33 percent of all exports, SIPRI determines.

“So many of our military engagements and wars have been around the issue of access to oil and other resources,” Leslie Cagan, the New York coordinator for the People’s Climate Movement, told AlterNet. “And then the wars that we conduct have an impact on the lives of individual people, communities and the environment. It's a vicious cycle. We go to war over access to resources or to defend corporations, wars have a devastating impact, and then the actual use of military equipment sucks more fossil fuel resources.”

‘No war, no warming’

At the intersections of war and climate chaos, social movement organizations have long been linking these two human-made problems. The U.S.-based network Grassroots Global Justice Alliance has spent years rallying behind the call of “No war, no warming,” citing the “framework of Dr. Martin Luther King’s philosophy of the triple evils of poverty, racism and militarism.”

The 2014 People’s Climate March in New York City had a sizeable anti-war, anti-militarist contingent, and many are now mobilizing to bring a peace and anti-militarist message to the march for climate, jobs and justice on April 29 in Washington, D.C.

“The foundation is laid for people to make the connections, and we are trying to find ways to integrate peace and anti-military sentiment into that language,” said Cagan, who has been preparing for the April march. “I think people in the coalition are very open to that, although some organizations haven't taken anti-war positions in the past, so this is new territory.”

Some organizations are getting concrete about what it looks like to stage a “just transition” away from a military and fossil fuels economy. Diana Lopez is an organizer with the Southwest Workers Union in San Antonio, Texas. She explained to AlterNet, “We’re a military city. Until six years ago, we had eight military bases, and one of the primary avenues for people getting out of high school is joining the military.” The other option is working in the dangerous oil and fracking industry, says Lopez, explaining that in poor Latino communities in the area, “We’re seeing a lot of young folks who come out of the military going straight into the oil industry.”

The Southwest Workers Union is involved in efforts to organize a just transition, which Lopez described as a “process of moving from a structure or system that is not conducive to our communities, such as military bases and the extractive economy. [That means] identifying next steps forward when military bases shut down. One of the things we’re working on is increasing solar farms.”

“When we talk about solidarity, it is often those communities exactly like ours in other countries that are being harassed, killed and targeted by U.S. military operations,” said Lopez. “We think it is important to challenge militarism and hold folks accountable who are defending these structures. It’s communities around military bases that have to deal with the legacy of contamination and environmental destruction.”


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A More Equitable Economy Exists Right Next Door

In Quebec, co-ops and non-profit businesses account for 8-10 percent of GDP.

Business owners gather at an elegant Montreal event center to celebrate the 20th anniversary of a large-scale economic partnership.  The former chief of Quebec’s largest bank is the guest of honor.

Sidewalks bustle with people walking in and out of homes, offices, bank, pharmacy, workout studio and coffee shop at Montreal’s Technopole Angus, a development that already sports 56 business with 2500 employees and will eventually encompass a million-square-feet of real estate.

Morning-shift workers unload barrels of paper onto conveyor belts emptying into giant shredding machines on the shop floor of Recyclage Vanier, a Quebec City firm specializing in secure disposal of confidential documents.

A line snakes down the street for a matinee at the Cinema Beaubien, an art deco moviehouse in a quiet Montreal neighborhood. Taxis line up across the street waiting for customers who will soon be getting out of the early show.

Leonard Cohen’s gravelly voice rings through the taproom at La Barberie Brewery, located near Quebec City’s business district. Its Belgian-style saisons and blackberry blanc beers are enjoyed throughout the province. A few blocks away, an 18th-century monastery inside Quebec City’s historic walls has recently opened its doors as a hotel and spa.

Welcome to everyday life in Quebec, Canada’s second largest province with 8.2 million people. Yet these scenes of economic activity are different in a notable way from similar ones occurring throughout North America. Each enterprise involves a cooperative or non-profit organization, which together make up 8-10 percent of the province’s GDP.  More than 7,000 of these “social economy” enterprises ring up $17 billion in annual sales and hold $40 billion in assets (Canadian dollars). They account for about 215,000 jobs across Quebec.

Quebec’s social economy (also translated as “solidarity economy”) extends far beyond the province’s two major cities and includes manufacturing, agricultural cooperatives, daycare centers, homecare services, affordable housing, social service initiatives, food coops, ecotourism, arts programs, public markets, media and funeral homes. The capital that fuels all this economic activity comes from union pension funds, non-profit loan funds, credit unions, government investment and philanthropy.   

“We always say the social economy is simply the formalization of the commons. It’s social ownership, the goal of which is a sustainable, democratic economy with a market—instead of a market economy,” explains Nancy Neamtan, co-founder of Chantier de l’Economie Sociale, a network of social economy organizations whose anniversary banquet is described above. “Our mission is building a broader vision of what the economy actually is.”

“When Chantier started out, a lot of people said it wouldn’t work. We had unions, women’s organizations, green groups, and many thought it was too diverse,” Neamtan says. “But it does work.” Evidence for her assertion is visible all around—Chantier’s office is tucked into a six story building that takes up most of a city block, all of which is filled with social economy organizations.  

Not all of these social businesses are new—some of the credit unions, cooperatives and union pension funds go back a hundred years. “But they were largely invisible to many people until the name social economy became popular,” Neamtan adds.

Quebec’s social economy ranges from a video game creator’s cooperative to a social integration program for Haitian immigrants to a coop grocery in a remote town on the Gaspe peninsula to a network of 8000 home healthcare workers, half of whom were on welfare before being trained for the field.  Here are more examples showing the range of these enterprises:

Groupe Paradoxe: Chantier de l’Economie Sociale’s 20th Anniversary celebration was staged in a renovated church run by Groupe Paradoxe, which teaches at-risk young people job skills in the booming audio-visual presentation, events and meetings industries.  

Desjardins Group: The banker honored for his work at Chantier’s banquet was former president of the Desjardins credit union, founded in 1900 and today the province’s largest financial institution.   

The Nitaskinam Cooperative: Also on hand at the banquet was Nitaskinam, an Inuit-run cooperative which designs clothing inspired by art of the Atikamekw people, which has doubled from three to six members in its first year. “The social economy is our traditional economic model and fits with our values,” explains co-founder Karine Awashish, who is also an economic development official of this tribal nation. “I see good opportunities for us to create new social economy jobs in forestry, health services, tourism, arts festivals and youth projects.”

UTILE Student Housing Cooperative: One of the youngest entrepreneurs at the banquet, Laurent Levesque, helped launch a student housing development organization with other activists involved in the headline-grabbing 2012 Quebec Student Strike, collaborating with Chantier de l’économie Trust.  “Students pay 70-80 percent more in rent on average,” he explained, “which creates an inflationary spiral” that hurts not just them, but their low-income neighbors.  With start-up capital from the Concordia Student Union and further funding from social economy partners like Desjardins and the province of Quebec, UTILE is set to break ground on apartments for 160 students.

Technopole Angus: It’s no coincidence that that the Desjardins credit union has a branch in the new Technopole Angus sustainable urban village, which brings opportunities to a working class neighborhood that was rocked when the Canadian Pacific Railway shuttered its machine shops in 1992.  A number of historic brick structures were repurposed, and new eco-friendly buildings constructed, with more planned for the project’s phase II.  The community will eventually include 500 affordable housing units, 450,000 square-feet of office space, 20 local shops, four public squares, a bike-pedestrian main street and a one-acre urban farm growing organic produce.    

Recylage Vanier: A non-profit organization started 30 years ago by two out-of-work men who realized the recycling industry could benefit the disadvantaged as well as the earth, Recylage Vanier offers training for people struggling to find work because of low job skills, recent immigration, substance abuse, mental illness, disability, or other challenges.  Jobseekers arrive here for a 24-week program that emphasizes work readiness and life skills as well as on-the-job experience.  Most are long-term unemployed, who have been sent by the Quebec employment bureau and social service groups.

“They have to get along with a boss, get along with colleagues, master simple tasks and then take on new ones with more responsibility, all the way up to driving a forklift,” says Nicolas Reeves, one of Vanier’s managers.  For the final four weeks, they split their time between the recycling plant and job hunting with the help of staff counselors. About 85 percent of graduates find work, and 10 percent seek further education, according to Reeves. Recylage Vanier faces stiff competition from two private companies in the field, so clients who value the organization’s mission are important to their success—including the province of Quebec, which provides about half their business.  

Cinema Beaubien: This is non-profit neighborhood moviehouse explicitly proclaims its mission to “defend the primacy of persons and labor over capital in the distribution of its surpluses and incomes.”  The cinema’s importance as a community gathering spot can be witnessed in the long lines at the ticket booth, where patrons merrily chat with one another rather than staring at their phones. Taxis wait across the streets to whisk moviegoers to their next destination, about half of which are from the Taxi Coop Montreal.  (In Quebec City, all taxi drivers belong to a cooperative.)

La Barberie Cooperative Microbrewery: Operating as a worker cooperative for the past 20 years explains the success of this brewery and brewpub, says general manager Jean-Francois Genest, who joined La Barberie three years ago after running his family’s bookstore and later converting another bookstore into a cooperative. “The co-op is a good plan to keep a place going. Sharing the profits means you attract the best workers. For our part, we try to make their jobs as interesting as possible, offer more holidays and higher pay.” Emilie DuMais, who’s tended bar here for eight years, notes, “You have much more ambition working for yourself than working for someone else.”

Le Monastere des Augustines: A convent dating back to 1700s in the heart of Quebec City’s walled city has just opened as an elegantly renovated hotel, spa, museum and conference center. It is organized as a non-profit in accordance with the social mission of nuns still living there to promote holistic health and spiritual renewal. Besides tourists, spa patrons and participants in corporate meetings, guests also include activist groups holding retreats and health care workers seeking a reprieve from the stress of their jobs.

RISQ: In 1997 Chantier created RISQ (Reseau d’Investissement Social du Quebec), which has invested $25 million in technical aid and capital for social economy businesses, resulting in: 1786 new jobs, 5,119 jobs maintained and job training for 1527 marginalized workers across Quebec, according to their calculations.  RISQ financial analyst Nathalie Villemure, who worked for many years in private banking, notes that they see fewer defaults than commercial lenders. “These people have a cause bigger than themselves, so they work harder and we help them find solutions.”

Fiducie: In 2007 Chantier launched Fiducie, a $50 million “patient capital” (or slow money) fund that provides long term, non-guaranteed loans of $50,000-1.5 million to promising cooperatives and non-profits with less than 200 employees. “We don’t expect to see anything in repayment for 15 years,” says General Manager Jacques Charest. Thirty million of the investment came from union pension funds with the rest from the federal and provincial governments.   

What We Can Learn from Quebec’s Social Economy

While Quebec possesses a distinct culture and history, the emergence of a strong social economy across the province provides practical lessons for other places.  

Recognize the Social Economy When You See It

Cooperatives and non-profit initiatives already exist throughout the US and most other countries, so the first step is seeing, naming and claiming the social economy as part of the commons we all share.  

Look Widely for Inspiration & Ideas

Neamtan points out that the American tradition of community organizing was a big influence on their early work, especially community development corporations (CDCs) that arose to tackle problems of disinvestment in urban neighborhoods. The Dudley Street Initiative, which transformed a low-income community in the Roxbury district of Boston, was a particular inspiration for her. The proliferation of cooperatives in the Basque and Catalonian regions of Spain provided another model for bottom-up economic development.  

Seek Solidarity

Social economy initiatives benefit from the longstanding sense of solidarity in Quebec, where French speakers were discriminated against and their local economy dominated by English-speaking Canadians, Americans and English.  A analogous situation can be found among racial and social minorities, and in rural and deindustrialized regions where economic power is wielded from outside.

Tap the Power of Government

Government agencies have been a partners and funders in many projects through the years. Social economy initiatives often arose even when conservative politicians were slashing government programs to provide a more humane alternative to strictly market-oriented development. Legislation passed by the left-center Parti Quebecois in 1997 gave the social economy movement a big boost by offering local governments more leeway in supporting community and cooperative efforts to create jobs and promote entrepreneurship.

Partner with Unions

“The labor movement boosted the social economy by making the choice in the 1980s not to just negotiate contracts but to create jobs and support civic enterprises,” explains Neamtan, which led to the creation of the landmark Quebec Solidarity Fund, an $11-billion-dollar pension fund, of which 65 percent is invested in small- and medium-sized Quebec-owned businesses.

Partner with Faith Organizations

Historically, the Catholic church controlled many aspects of life in the province, and priests enthusiastically promoted cooperatives and non-profit institutions as models of the church’s social teaching. By the end of the 20th century when the church’s influence waned in the face of increasing secularization, social economy organizations found numerous opportunities to set up shop in closed churches and convents.  The church remains an ally, Neamtan notes, “especially now that Pope Francis talks all the time about the Solidarity Economy.”


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