The 2020 US presidential campaign is already underway. With each day that passes between now and election day, all other topics will receive less attention, both from talking heads on the news and from regular folks (and bots) in the social media universe.
This is quite unfortunate because the race for this office is far less important than a myriad of other topics, chief among them the environment and (inextricably connected) US militarism.
“But wait,” insists the true-believer political junkie. “The outcome of this race will have a big effect on those issues.”
Yeah, except that it won’t.
No matter what candidate is selected, the state of the environment will worsen and US militarism will march on unrestrained. This is a multi-decade trend that will not be reversed by changing the occupant of the Oval Office next year.
Starting after Carter’s term in the late 70’s, the state of environmental and imperial affairs has worsened each time a new party takes over at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. They speak in different tones of voice, but pummel the world with the same corporate-powered club.
The creeping fascism of the Reagan/Bush years was followed by the faux progressivism of the Clintons, whose accomplishments were a Republican wet dream: slashing social programs, ratcheting up the police/prison state, deregulating finance and media and sacrificing the environment to profit. Under Bill and Hillary’s regime, six times as many trees were cut down on public lands as by Ronnie and George.
Bush II took the baton and kept up the pace, using 9/11 as a pretense for all manner of brutality, including the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people in Iraq and elsewhere. He and his cronies did their best to put the environment on the chopping block (and in the smelter, the power plant and the rancher’s hands).
What about Mr. Hope & Change? Surely he broke the pattern? Nope. As Jeffrey St. Clair and Joshua Frank sum it up in their book, “The Big Heat”: “On the environment, the transition between Bush and Obama was disturbingly smooth when it should have been decisively abrupt.” They document how, during the Obama years, the regulatory agencies continued to be run by reps from the industries they were supposed to be watchdogging, with predictable consequences (which is to say, few negative ones, if you were a corporation). Under Obama’s “all of the above” energy policy, U.S. fossil fuel production hit highs not seen since the early 1970’s. BTW, any of it that’s exported is counted as someone else’s carbon emissions, but that’s some BS accounting. That’s ours. We didn’t keep it in the ground, so that pollution belongs on our ledger.
As for empire, Obama did not roll back any of W’s executive power grabs, and officially codified many of them. The Nobel Peace Prize winner’s time was the first double-term in which the US was continuously at war (at least the way such things are counted, which is by not counting the genocide of Native Americans as “war,” though it has been continuous from day one to the present). The rape of Libya, including the literal anal rape of its leader, Qaddafi, was only one of his sins (though Hillary likes to take credit for it).
Trump upped the assault on the nation’s ecology, increased the drone war, and has been an enthusiastic saber-rattler (despite a few empty words to the contrary). That he is an all-around disaster is beyond question. But so is the bipartisan agreement on nearly all of his policies from the DC crowd. And so is the fact that if a Democrat succeeds him, only a few of his worst excesses will be moderately curtailed, if that. If any.
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You cannot be pro-environment without being anti-war.
First, because the Pentagon is the world’s single largest institutional polluter. The statistics for present and past behavior are staggering:
- The U.S. Department of Defense produces 750,000 tons of toxic waste every year
- Such waste includes depleted uranium, oil and fuel, pesticides, and heavy metals including lead
- The department’s environmental program deals with 39,000 contaminated areas in the US
- Nearly 900 of the nation’s 1200 Superfund sites are former military sites or military-related
- In 2013, “the Pentagon consumed fuel equivalent to 90,000,000 barrels of crude oil,” which would produce over 38,000,000 metric tons of CO2 if burned as jet fuel
- Additionally, nuclear radiation on Pacific islands and in the US Southwest from atomic weapons tests is causing higher local cancer rates to this day
- Adding insult to injury, carbon emissions from Pentagon activities are not counted as part of US totals in international climate meetings, as per Clinton and Bush II. So yeah, 80% of the fuel used by the federal government isn’t in the math. That makes for some funny math.
[The sources for these stats are worth reading: Why the US military is the world’s largest polluter, U.S. Military is World’s Biggest Polluter, Elephant in the Room: The Pentagon’s Massive Carbon Footprint]
Secondly, cooperation among nations to address global issues is made far more difficult by the USA’s imperial foreign policy. On a basic level, when you are focused on trying to survive the US military machine, other considerations become secondary. Economically, the US military is acting in the interests of corporate powers that actively oppose environmental regulations and practices.
The US is the big bully on the playground, trying to tell everyone else what they can and can’t do. Yes, this makes a difference. No, we can’t just ignore it and just talk about renewable energy.
None of the Democratic candidates currently getting serious attention from the corporate media have any desire to reign in the “Defense” budget sufficiently (or in most cases, at all) or to remake foreign policy so that the military isn’t just a hired thug for corporate power. Nor will any such idea become part of the conversation unless relative outsiders are able to participate it the televised debates. (Marianne Williamson, for example, would “gladly support the establishment of a U.S. Department of Peacebuilding,” but as of this writing was still seeking the 65,000 individual donations required to gain entry to the debates.)
As for the environment, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was correct when she said we need an “ambitious, on-scale proposal to address the global climate crisis.” She is incorrect that the “Green New Deal” proposal she put forward with Senator Ed Markey (D-Mass) fits that description. It doesn’t. It is timid and inadequate.
However, in the narrow context of DC politics, it’s been like somebody cannonballing into the pool at a formal black tie, and that’s been a teachable moment, as they say, especially for the young people who know we’re in some hot water that’s only getting hotter. The overwrought and often rude responses to AOC’s apparent (“seeming”) sincerity, including from prominent Democrats, has been out there for everyone to see.
The climate crisis is only one of our ecological problems, which include widespread pollution of air, water and soil from agriculture and industry; radioactive waste from weapons-making and power plants that will remain harmful for tens of thousands of years; and species extinction from pesticides and habitat loss. The scale of all this is way beyond what any U.S. president can address on their own.
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Much has been made recently of the IPCC’s warning that we have 12 years to change course in order to avoid climate disaster.
Unfortunately, the IPCC is at the conservative end of climate science. Their conclusions are not drawn from current data and are subject to a process of compromise that is as much political as it is scientific. This is known within the climate science community.
Therefore, their timeline is very likely too optimistic. The point in time they are talking about may well have already passed.
Urgency is our watchword. We cannot wait until November 2020 (actually January 2021) for a new president to save us. If there’s any saving to do, that’s our job, and we need to get to it. The sooner we get going, the better.
And, pardon my language, but fuck the elections. Seriously.
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The preoccupation with the presidency is delusional in that the power of the office is greatly exaggerated in the popular mind.
Despite the desires of the (so far) men who have inhabited the office, the president is not a dictator and cannot rule by fiat. Even with the very real rise of the “imperial presidency” over the last half century, and its steady accumulation of more power, the president must still work with others, especially on domestic issues. Executive orders cannot be used to remake the health care, education or banking systems, for example. As Trump found out with his ignored decree to withdraw troops from Syria, the president is limited even as commander-in-chief. So, voters will be disappointed if they are hoping for a revolution by way of the White House. Ain’t gonna happen.
What we need are mass movements.
Big, dedicated, active mass movements.
IRL, it should go without saying.
This is not news. As Howard Zinn famously put it: “The really critical thing isn’t who’s sitting in the White House, but who is sitting in – in the streets, in the cafeterias, in the halls of government, in the factories. Who is protesting, who is occupying offices and demonstrating – those are the things that determine what happens.”
If you don’t think that’s true, look how fast Trump’s government shut-down ended when a handful of airport workers “called in sick,” threatening the nation’s airline transportation network. Of course the corporate media portrayed it as a victory for Nancy Pelosi because the narrative of battling titans makes more sense to them than people-power. But it was people power. And just a tiny taste of it.
Writer Nick Pemberton recently said: “Solidarity, not compromise, will topple the capitalist-imperialist world order.” Indeed. Our mass movements must think globally. We colonizers here in the USA do not have all the answers, and given all the time in the world, we would never come up with them, nor even enough of them. We must take our cues from our sisters and brothers in different places, especially those living indigenous lives. There is some of that wisdom within our borders, too, in the POW camps we call “reservations,” currently being ignored for the most part. It’s well past time we shut up, sit still for a minute, and listen to what they have to say. To think we can fix this mess on our own is another expression of American Exceptionalism.
The mass movements we build don’t need to be tailored to any particular president. Hardly. Whoever’s in there will be opposed to the changes that must happen. Using widespread, coordinated, non-violent civil disobedience to bring business-as-usual to a standstill, we can convince her or him – and our other “representatives” in government – to do what needs to be done.
And what needs to be done?
Among other things: pulling up the stakes of empire and dismantling the military-industrial complex; utterly ending Big Agriculture and creating local, healthy food systems; dissolving the work/school/prison system in favor of humane, life-centered communities. And that’s just to start.
Lastly, we should stop looking at the necessary transformation of society in terms of “what we need to give up.” What we gain will way exceed whatever we cut. We will literally be choosing healing over killing, thriving over suffering, life over death.
I’m ready to go when you are!
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Extinction Rebellion UK is on the mass civil disobedience bus for real, and they are calling for people around the world to take action April 15 – 22, 2019. Chris Hedges just wrote a great article about XR and their call-to-action here.