The Empire Is Always Striking Back

Let’s start with our monthly roundup of good climate news: California is getting more aggressive about its #stopsucking campaign to ban plastic straws and has also informed Ryan Zinke’s Interior Department that it will not cooperate with plans to transport offshore oil through the state; New York State is suing the federal government over EPA head Scott Pruitt’s attempt to suspend the Clean Water Act for two years; the President’s anti-environmentalist nominee to head the Council on Environmental Quality has withdrawn her name from consideration for the post; a diverse cross-section of grassroots groups convened for the Fossil Free Fast gathering in DC to push a “bold agenda” of climate action; a number of leading universities have joined together to form the University Climate Change Coalition (or UC3) with a mission to “prototype a collaborative model designed to help local communities achieve their climate goals and accelerate the transition to a low-carbon future”; Oregon is installing significant new solar capacity; even as Cape Town faces the possibility of literally running out of water, residents of that city are meeting the challenge with great ingenuity; 3M has settled with the state of Minnesota to pay nearly $1 billion in penalties for poisoning drinking water (debatable whether this is really good news), while meanwhile, also in Minnesota, indigenous groups and their allies rallied to urge US Bank to divest from fossil fuels; and here in New York City, activists – including myself – gathered on Valentine’s Day outside the courthouse where Gov. Cuomo’s former aide and close friend Joseph Percocco is on trial for corruption to urge Gov. Cuomo to break up with the fossil fuel lobby.

Also, Queen Elizabeth has apparently “banned plastic straws and bottles from all cafés, dining halls, and catered events on royal estates”, although, from a climate standpoint, it would probably be more beneficial if the British Royal family simply stopped squandering vast sums on their lavish lifestyles and sheltering their assets in offshore tax havens.

There is, of course, manifold bad climate news as well – the Pacific island nation of Kiribati at risk of disappearing; our corrupt legal system punishing lawyers for defending ecological sanity; daily, new unforeseen threats from climate disruption being, literally, unearthed (as, in this case, may be immense amounts of mercury); coal lobbyists at the EPA; fracking continuing to cause earthquakes; Scott Pruitt; the President, his recently announced tariff on solar panels, and his scammy, anti-environmental, privatizing so-called infrastructure plan; Monsanto; Bitcoin (some of which I own); Republicans; record low winter sea ice; deodorant; bottled water in general, and Nestlé in particular; microfibers polluting the oceans and ending up in human blood streams; the list could, sadly, go on practically ad infinitum – but lest you throw your hands up in despair, I’d like to focus on one under-discussed issue this month: the role of US militarism in driving global climate breakdown and ecological destruction.

Although not seen as topics for polite conversation, the United States has entered its 17th straight year at war and the (still undeclared) war in Afghanistan is now the longest war in US history. That the US invasion of Iraq was all, at root, about “the price of oil” is, by now, a commonplace; however, what has been less discussed is the role of domestic oil production in US military-diplomatic strategy. On this topic, I recommend that everyone read Michael Klare’s excellent piece for TomDispatch (the newsletter of a different Tom, whose work I admire). Even as I am committed to our local and regional struggles here in New York City and New York State, I am aware that a focus on individual issues can sometimes serve to obscure the larger picture.

Certainly, it is clear by now that plans are afoot – and well on their way to being realized – to extract every last drop of extractable shale oil in North America, and to crisscross the continent with leaky, all-too-often-explosive pipelines to allow for distribution and export of this extremely dirty fuel. Not always so clear are the underlying military / strategic motivations of the United States Government in backing and facilitating the massive buildout of this fracked gas infrastructure. This is the true meaning of our much vaunted “energy independence”: that in the future, we will have no breathable air or drinkable water left, but we will be secure on our fortress (Turtle) Island of a continent, so long as we don’t fall victim to our own increasingly psychotic, militaristic, and homicidal culture.

What we really must struggle against are relentless militarism and parasitic capitalism. The United States – already the world’s largest producer of natural gas – has now passed Saudi Arabia to become the world’s second largest producer of oil, with many prognosticators predicting that the US will soon pass Russia as well to become the world’s leading oil producer. From a historical perspective, militaries in general – and the US military in particular – are major drivers of climate breakdown. (Christophe Bonneuil and Jean-Baptiste Fressoz have written a great book on this, among other, topics.) So as we celebrate the courageous work of citizen activists, like those behind FracTracker – which “studies, maps, and communicates the risks of oil and gas development to protect our planet and support the renewable energy transformation” – we must also be savvy to and intransigent in the face of the machinations of our own imperial military-industrial complex lest we find ourselves unwitting accomplices in leaving the continent (further) toxified by fracking and girded by deadly pipelines in the name of empire.

In spite of the near-complete scientific consensus and growing chorus of popular voices calling for urgent climate action, the US Department of Energy predicts no decrease (and, in fact, an increase) in US carbon emissions by 2050. Perhaps next month we will consider the human and ecological toll of the mineral economies underlying solar power technologies just to keep things real, but for now, I think this has already been quite enough.

What I’m Doing

In softening my tone last month in the name of accessibility, I came to fear being guilty of glad-handing; perhaps, this month, I’ve overcorrected.

As for my concrete climate action in February, it has thus far been modest:

In this last instance, all of these fracked gas infrastructure projects are meant to serve NYC’s insatiable demand for energy. I feel that those of us who live in the city have a deep obligation to take ownership of the consequences of our consumption and fight for more sane and just alternatives going forward – alternatives that spare us the worst ravages of climate breakdown and ecological degradation, while also sparing our friends and neighbors outside the Greater New York metropolitan area the manifold harms engendered by our excesses.

If you haven’t already, I urge you to share your comments with the Delaware River Basin Commission in support of a full and permanent ban on fracking (and all fracking related activities, including wastewater disposal) in the Delaware River Basin. You can do so here, and it should only take you a few minutes.

What I’m Reading

Is this the end of civilisation? We could take a different path – interview with George Monbiot via the P2P Foundation (which focuses on “Commons-based approaches to societal and consciousness change”).

Rights of Nature & Mother Earth: Rights-based law for Systemic Change – perhaps prohibitively long report from the Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN), and others, which I haven’t had the chance yet to read in full myself; if 30+ pages is, understandably daunting, you may at least find it if worth looking over the introduction and first section which summarize a “Rights of Nature” framework.

Carbon Pricing: A Critical Perspective for Community Resistance – another prohibitively long report, also from IEN, but which offers one page of “Main Takeaways” (challenging various carbon pricing strategies) which I recommend you read.

Shop Here, Not There: Science Says Reducing Inequality Is Almost That Simple – encouraging piece from YES! Magazine on a study suggesting that shifting even a small percentage of purchases can significantly help reduce inequality; although I am somewhat skeptical of this particular finding, I am increasingly committed to conscious consumerism (to the extent we engage in consumerism), which is why I continue to boycott Amazon, among other megacorporations, and make a concerted effort to patronize locally-owned small businesses.

The Uneven Gains of Energy Efficiency – another CityLab piece, this one on the urgent need to improve – and retrofit for – energy efficiency, with an eye toward the social, economic, and ecological tolls of substandard housing for the poor.


No bonus this week. If you’ve made it this far, you’ve read enough! If you enjoyed this piece, you might also appreciate The Fierce Urgency of Now, the first in this new series of essays. As always, comments, likes, and especially shares appreciated.

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