American War –
Look Out Earth
By Jim Miles
True to the American manner of meeting challenges and desiring to overcome them, a recent Time magazine cover led off with the title “How to Win The War On Global Warming” . Accompanying that article, the UN Secretary-General demonstrated his Washington consensus credentials with a commentary titled “The Right War.” If the American history of war is to be considered, earth itself is in trouble. The “war on drugs” has been an ongoing fiasco, with billions put into various corners of the world mostly causing death and destruction between different factions killing each other off and – in the homeland - leading to the incarceration of millions of people – mainly black. The current global war on terror is also a moral and financial fiasco, expected to ultimately cost 3 – 5 trillion dollars just from Afghanistan and Iraq alone.
Bryan Walsh, the ‘specialist’ who put the presentation together, starts off the article with the jingoistic militancy so common to American attitudes, “Americans don’t like to lose wars – which makes sense, since they get so little practice with it.” And shortly after Walsh pretty much exalts in the idea that “those [shooting wars] are the kind at which the U.S. excels.” How ridiculous can one get as an introduction to an article on global warming? Oh sure, the Americans whomped poor little Granada to prevent its socialist hordes from attacking America, and they performed splendidly in Panama against their former partner Noriega (although the estimated three thousand killed would not think so). As for the lack of practice at losing, they are certainly making up for it in Iraq and Afghanistan against a ragtag band of militias protecting their home territory, while at the same time causing mass environmental and societal damage along with hundreds of thousands of deaths. And what of Vietnam, a war resulting in an estimated three million Asian deaths, a mined and polluted countryside, not to mention that it was an out and out loss?
The other aspect of that comment, the scarier aspect, is the amount of destruction and lack of foresight into the ramifications of their actions that seems to play no part in American decision-making. As an analogy, perhaps the U.S. could win the war against carbon and global warming (a dubious prospect at best) but after that then what? I ask that question because global warming is not the problem, but a serious symptom of an overall greater problem.
If it is to be war, Walsh gets one thing right, that “by any measure, the U.S. is losing” and “if America is fighting at all…it’s fighting on the wrong side.” To fight the war Walsh envisions technology as our hero combined with the economics of carbon capping/trading. While this might slow down carbon emissions, it certainly does not stop it and several warnings have already been issued that we need to do much more than slow the level of increase, we need to reverse it. For all his technological proposals the effect will not be “that overall carbon levels fall” but perhaps the more modest gain that the rate of increase will decrease. I would be delighted if I was wrong and technology saved the day but technology is simply a tool in the hands of people, who besides producing too much carbon, are themselves too many and consume too much. That is the overall greater problem.
Bin Ki-Moon supports Walsh by reversing the causality of global warming. He sees global warming as the problem and when solved many other problems “from poverty to armed conflict” will be solved along with “a more peaceful and prosperous one [planet] too.” Darfur is used as the example of climate change causing war and conflict…but then one needs to ask where did the climate change come from? Another argument is that “security everywhere depends on sustainable development everywhere.” In certain respects Ki-Moon is correct, by solving global warming we solve other problems. But solving global warming means eliminating one symptom created by other greater problems and a simplistic technological fix of the symptom is neither sufficient nor possible.
The latter comment leads back to the real source of the problem – that of too many people demanding way too much of the earth’s resources…and the U.S. is by far the biggest culprit in this. If everyone lived at the economic consumptive level of the U.S., we would require up to nine more earths (depending on source) in order to sustain that lifestyle. Sustainable development is an oxymoron – earth is finite and can only support so many people according to the consumptive demands of the people, or more correctly, demands created in the people by the propaganda of advertising that promotes all the consumption.
Further tying the two articles together, Walsh refers to an April International Monetary Fund study that concluded “smart carbon cutting policies could contain climate change without seriously harming the economy.” Are we to trust this part of the Washington consensus that through its trade laws and international agreements has produced some of the worst agricultural production records in countries that have been coerced into unprotected trading with the fully subsidized agricultural producers of the U.S. and Europe? Haiti is no longer self-sufficient in rice thanks to the heavily subsidized American imports and currently has had food riots because of the price and lack of availability.
No, as I have indicated before, that while global warming is a serious problem, it is a symptom of a much greater problem, the problem of too many people, too much consumption. And it is the nature of that consumption, the high-energy costs, the economic and social costs, the environmental degradation caused by the extraction of resources (food or raw materials) that is the base of the problem. To truly help the environment the people of world who blithely consume far more than their share of it will need to minimize their consumption. That ultimately would be where any American “war on global warming” will fail: the big corporations make their billions of dollars on consumption; the consumers are so immersed into their lifestyles that they may not be capable of making the considerable adaptations necessary to curb global warming.
The obvious leading from that is that war itself is a sign, a ways and means, of this drive to control and consume resources almost as a capitalist-imperialist necessity to keep the wealth flowing to the heartland from the many hinterlands now under U.S. military-economic control. So the solution to global warming is not carbon capping/trading/capture. Ban Ki-Moon does get part of it right at least rhetorically recognizing the relationship between the economy and the environment: “if the challenges of poverty alleviation, environmental stewardship and the control of climate change are not tied together – any solutions…will at best be a band-aid.” It goes even further than that. The solution to global warming is a change in the culture of consumption, the culture of corporate greed and propaganda (advertising) that creates the false ‘need’ for so much ‘stuff’. A major part of that corporate greed is its military alliance that supports it throughout the world with over eight hundred military installations and hundreds of thousands of military personnel serving in seventy per cent of the world’s countries .
Without a greater awareness of all the relationships between global warming as a symptom, and environmental over-consumption and over population as the underlying cause, an American “war on global warming” is sure to be another fiasco. It is a complex situation, one that will not be solved by simply reducing carbon emissions, indeed one cannot ‘simply’ reduce carbon emissions as there are too many other parameters to the problem. We need to solve the problem of over-consumption, of wealth disparities, of wealth allocation, of using the militaries to enrich corporate/political elites. We need to redesign the trade structures of the world, and eliminate the imposition of unequal agreements between the consumers and the producers. A more peaceful planet will come through achieving a more equitable one, a less greedy one, one in which all inhabitants can share the resources and then participate more fully in through enriching cultural activities. Otherwise, another American war, another series of disasters.
 Walsh, Bryan. “How to Win The War On Global Warming”, Time. April 28, 2008. pp. 27-38.
 Ban Ki-Moon. “The Right War – The U.N.’s chief on why a greener planet would be a more peaceful one.” . Time. April 28, 2008. P. 39.
 “US 'extremely concerned' over Iran,” Friday April 25, 2008. Al Jazeera English. http://english.aljazeera.net/NR/exeres/
2EB50C20-D8D3-4755-A0E6-141F57A91A89.htm (using Pentagon sources).
Jim Miles is a Canadian educator and a regular contributor/columnist of opinion pieces and book reviews for The Palestine Chronicle. Miles’ work is also presented globally through other alternative websites and news publications.