In recent comments at the United Nations Climate Summit, US president Barack Obama espoused an urgent need for all the nations of Earth to work together and engage anthropogenic climate change. Obama ensured his peers in attendance that the “United States of America is stepping up to the plate” and that (the collective) we “embrace our responsibility” to combat climate change. Curiously, though, as the Nobel Peace Prize winner spoke, bombs bearing the USA’s insignia fell on Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Pakistan and Somalia.
War is incompatible with sustainability. Serious engagement of anthropogenic change demands peace.
The United States is a permanent wartime state. The Obama administration’s new military engagement with ISIS is yet another testament to the fact. This should be no surprise. Just over a year ago senior administration officials told the US Senate there exists a “broad consensus” that military operations in the Middle East are to be extended, in their “limitless form,” for at least another decade, possibly two, before adding the United States has reached only the midpoint in its global war on terror. This was before ISIS became a topic of dinner table discussion.
This wartime state is responsible for the mass slaughter of innocents, exacerbation of global terror and property destruction — all while advancing anthropogenic climate change. Rest assured, the state will not be “going to bat” on climate.
The US Department of Defense is the nation’s single largest consumer of fossil fuels. From arms production to the grand machines of war, the military emits more greenhouse gas than any other state institution. War also wrecks natural ecosystems. Ongoing interventions have damaged forests and wetlands across the Middle East. According to CostOfWar.org, Afghanistan has lost 38% of total forested area to illegal logging. This deforestation is associated with warlords who rise to power from the ashes of military campaigns that continually destabilize the region. This plunder eliminates beneficial ecosystem services to surrounding populations and gives rise to further conflict and violence as people are left with depleted resources. Forest loss also reduces the amount of available habitat for a number of species, including avian communities, currently experiencing a precipitous population decline — a dangerous precedent in the midst of Earth’s sixth mass extinction.
The state organism is continually exalted by those in positions of power as the only legitimate mechanism of social organization. We are told only the state can ensure peace and sustainability in an increasingly complex and ever fragile world. But given the role of the nation-state in the world, as an economic and military power, it is time to acknowledge the organism is a global threat to peace, security, liberty and the environment.
States will not act on climate. Nation-states work as rational actors, advancing their own self interests. They seek the expansion their power, largely through the exploitation of natural resources. There is an inherent conflict of interest among states: The state with the most territory has the most resources for consumption. This is why war (be it military or economic) is the health of the state — it provides a monopoly over a territory and thus resources.
All of this, as 300 to 400 thousand people marched outside of the United Nations, and around the globe, to urge environmental protection. Progress starts in the streets, but true change requires everyday neighborhood environmentalism. Social power can render the state, and all of its illegitimate authority, useless. Don’t just step up to the plate. Stand on the ashes of power.
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