Archive for category: Climate Change
The global grassroots movement Extinction Rebellion is targeting House Speaker Nancy Pelosi with a hunger strike and demanding that the Democratic leader embrace bold climate action as have progressive lawmakers around the country.
The group told Pelosi a week ago that members would begin a hunger strike Monday unless the California Democrat agreed to a one-hour, on-camera meeting to discuss Extinction Rebellion’s demands for concrete climate action.
On Twitter, the group announced that Pelosi’s time was up and that at least 20 young activists would occupy the speaker’s Washington, D.C. office until she meets with them.
Time is up! Last Monday, we asked @SpeakerPelosi for a 1hr on-camera meeting – otherwise we Hunger Strike.
— Extinction Rebellion Washington DC (@XRebelDC) November 17, 2019
Extinction Rebellion live-streamed the demonstration on social media.
— Extinction Rebellion Washington DC (@XRebelDC) November 18, 2019
Giovanni Tamacas, an organizer of the hunger strike, read from a letter sent to Pelosi as the action began Monday.
“We won’t be patronized by a meeting with your staff, or a meeting in the distant future, or a five minute conversation, or an impromptu talk,” the letter reads. “Meet with us or leave us to starve while you jet to your Thanksgiving feasts and cocktail parties in the glow of a burning world. It is with a heavy heart that we will deny ourselves our basic needs. May our pain finally sound the alarm.”
#ExtinctionRebellion Global Hunger Strike starts tomorrow.
Humanity is at a crossroads. We either unite to mitigate ecological and #ClimateBreakdown or we face widespread social collapse.
— Extinction Rebellion UK (@XRebellionUK) November 17, 2019
The group rebuked Pelosi for “turning a blind eye” to the rapidly warming climate, wildfires raging throughout her home state, melting glaciers, and millions of climate refugees even as she says in speeches that “there is no time left to deny the reality of climate change.”
Despite that rhetoric, Extinction Rebellion said, Pelosi has hamstrung attempts to push for wide-reaching climate legislation by creating a congressional committee that has no subpoena power or ability to draft bills. Pelosi herself has not joined more than 100 members of Congress in co-sponsoring Green New Deal legislation, which is supported by a majority of Americans, including 86 percent of Democratic voters, according to recent polling.
Every day the evidence piles up at your desk, but you have yet to pass even symbolic legislation recognizing the climate crisis as a national emergency,” Extinction Rebellion wrote. “With all due respect, you have failed.”
Extinction Rebellion’s demands — conveyed over the last several months at rallies where attendees have spent weeks occupying public spaces, at nurse-ins in London, and now with the hunger strike — are that government leaders “tell the truth” about the climate by declaring a climate emergency; commit to passing legislation that would reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2025; and establish a citizens’ assembly on climate justice to center the concerns of frontline communities.
“Humanity is at a crossroads. We either unite to prevent climate and ecological collapse, or this nation and global society will fall to pieces,” wrote the group to Pelosi, echoing the warnings of Pentagon experts as well as 11,000 scientists around the world.
As the strike at Pelosi’s office began Monday morning, organizers handed out vitamins and nutritional supplements to the campaigners.
“Tell us why Columbia’s $11,000,000,000 endowment continues to fund climate death through its investment in fossil fuels.”
— Extinction Rebellion NYC (@XR_NYC) November 18, 2019
More than 300 people worldwide are taking part in the hunger strike, according to Extinction Rebellion. In England, 10 strikers assembled outside the Conservative Party headquarters.
“This has to be the climate election. If it’s not about the climate emergency we’re doomed.”
Dr. Larch Maxey from Totnes is one of 10 people on hunger strike outside Conservative HQ today.
— Extinction Rebellion Totnes (@XRTotnes) November 18, 2019
On social media, climate action advocates expressed support for the hunger strikers.
— Buffy Summers (@rebeccamhersh) November 18, 2019
“Gratitude to all in Extinction Rebellion who are beginning their hunger strikes today,” organizers tweeted. “Let’s hope it communicates the desperate need to act now on ecocide and the climate emergency to Speaker Pelosi and other legislators before it really is too late.”
“It’s already too late for so many,” the group added.
Young activists frustrated and frightened by Democrats’ inaction on the climate crisis occupied the office of the top Democrat in Congress on Monday to mark the beginning of a hunger strike.
The roughly 20 strikers and their supporters, with Extinction Rebellion, are taking part in a global climate hunger strike that nearly 300 people have pledged to join.
They say the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, is holding back progress, so they are targeting her instead of top Republicans. They are demanding that she meet with them for an hour on camera before they call off their hunger strike.
“Every day the evidence piles up at your desk, but you have yet to pass even symbolic legislation recognizing the climate crisis as a national emergency. With all due respect, you have failed,” the group said in a letter to Pelosi.
Pelosi’s office pushed back on allegations of inaction but did not say whether Pelosi or her staffers would meet with the protesters.
Extinction Rebellion calls for governments to declare a climate and ecological emergency, cut heat-trapping pollution to net-zero by 2025 and create a citizen’s assembly to direct a way forward. Their demands are far more aggressive than most environment organizations.
They want radical change to keep world temperatures from climbing 3 degrees Celsius or beyond the normal of just a century ago and disrupting human civilization. Thousands of scientists warn of a future that threatens “untold suffering.”
Seventeen-year-old Sophia Kianni, in speech she has planned for the hunger strike said “it is deeply saddening and shameful that we must resort to a hunger strike just to get our leaders to care about their children’s futures. Our nation’s leaders would rather watch climate activists starve than give us the time of day.” She accused Pelosi of employing “cowardly politics,” and “worrying about alienating big businesses.”
Nick Brana, a spokesman for Extinction Rebellion in Washington, accused Pelosi of holding back a resolution to declare a climate emergency and a Green New Deal and “neutering” a special House climate committee that does not have the power to subpoena fossil fuel companies or the ability to write legislation.
Twenty-year-old Giovanni Tamacas, whose Washington hunger strike the Guardian reported on in August, said he joined Extinction Rebellion because he felt other climate activism groups were not disruptive enough. He came to the organization after some of its protesters stripped off their clothes to draw attention to the crisis in the British parliament.
Young people around the world have been striking from school on Fridays in solidarity with Greta Thunberg. Celebrity activist Jane Fonda, 81, is also protesting at the US Capitol every Friday too and has been arrested multiple times.
“The way that this movement is going is we’re going to need more and more extreme actions in order to bring the climate crisis to the forefront of the debate, and you know it’s going to take mass participation in civil disobedience and direct action,” Tamacas said.
A new Lancet Countdown report presents the lifelong health consequences that a child born today will face
Australia is already feeling the effects of the climate crisis through rising temperatures, drought and major bushfires.
Meanwhile, governments are loosening environmental laws and agribusiness farming is damaging the habitat of native and introduced species.
All of this is changing the environment in which animals, including humans, live. But could it also be impacting on the spread of diseases?
There has been a rapid rise in the number of flying foxes in Coffs Harbour, in mid-north coast New South Wales. The clearing of hundreds of hectares of trees for blueberry cultivation, along with run-off from pesticides, has apparently damaged their native food supply. Seeking new food sources, these bat have begun moving into urban areas.
But there are health warnings associated with flying foxes and micro bats, as they carry the Australian bat lyssavirus, which is similar to rabies.
Diseases are caused by an organism know as a pathogen. All a pathogen needs to thrive and survive is a host. Once it sets itself up in the host’s body, it manages the body’s immune responses and uses it to replicate itself before spreading to a new host.
Depending on the type of pathogen, it can be transmitted in several ways: skin contact, bodily fluids, airborne particles, contact with faeces or a surface touched by an infected species.
The most typical pathogens are bacteria, fungi, parasites and viruses, such as lyssavirus.
There have already been 89 incidents of people requiring treatment to guard against lyssavirus after been bitten or scratched by flying foxes in the Coffs Harbour region.
Lyssavirus can also be passed on to humans indirectly. In the Brisbane suburb of Hendra, which is close to two major racecourses, the virus spread to horses via food that had been contaminated by flying fox bodily fluids. Known as the Hendra virus, it was subsequently passed on to humans involved in caring for these horses.
In horses, this virus can generate a fever, increased heart rate and rapid deterioration of respiratory and/or nervous system signs. However, there is a vaccine for horses.
In humans, it can cause fever, cough, sore throat, tiredness and, later, meningitis or inflammation of the brain and sometimes convulsions and coma. It can be fatal and there is no human vaccine currently available.
A pandemic refers to a large-scale spread of a particular disease for which there are no vaccines or known treatment. Perhaps the best-known pandemic was the worldwide spread of human influenza towards the end of World War I.
The pandemic took place in three waves: March 1918, where the mortality rate mirrored previous influenza outbreaks and their effects on the elderly and very young; September 1918; and early 1919, where it became extensively fatal. It is estimated that, worldwide, about 500 million people were infected and 50-100 million people died as a result of the pandemic.
Analyses of samples from second wave frozen corpses indicated the disease had migrated across species, most likely from bird-to-swine, then swine-to-human and finally human-to-human.
Since then there has been a rise in the speed with which various influenza viruses have spread. This has been linked to post-World War II changes in food production.
Global agribusiness meat production is based on the Taylorist time-and-motion factory model, in which maximum profitability shapes productivity. It revolves around shaping the type of animal best suited for quick development and fast delivery to market at the lowest possible cost.
At a national level, agribusiness production is generally structured vertically; that is, a single company owns and controls every stage of the process. When an avian or swine flu outbreak occurs in one country, the company moves to source its supply from another location.
In 1997, a deadly bird flu swept through poultry on two farms in Hong Kong. Two months later, a child died of the same highly pathogenic strain that had apparently jumped the species barrier. This was followed later by a small number of infections and deaths linked to handling of poultry.
By the end of the year birds begin to rapidly die in the city’s markets and authorities were forced to step in, ordering the destruction of all 1.5 million poultry.
Infected birds died from the inside out, imploding from internal organ damage. Humans similarly suffered organ breakdown and collapse, especially of the lungs, which often led to patients effectively drowning in their own fluid within days of infection.
In 2009, an outbreak of a new strain of swine flu in Mexico spread globally through human-to-human contact. Within a month, the World Health Organisation had reported 15,510 official cases of swine flu and 99 recorded deaths in 53 countries.
Since flu can transmit before symptoms appear, it had all the earmarks of a pandemic. But while the flu spread quickly, its virulence was not much more than that of a bad seasonal flu.
Pandemics do not just affect human populations.
At present, there is a pandemic of African Swine Fever (ASF) that has spread to more than 50 countries and has particularly devastated China, home to half of the world’s 1.3 billion pig population.
ASF has been identified in Eastern Europe, where the current outbreak began in 2014, Southeast Asia (Vietnam, South Korea, Laos, the Philippines), Western Europe (Belgium) and, more recently, in East Timor.
While the virus does not spread to human beings, it is virtually 100% fatal once established in a pig population. Infected pigs die in a similar manner to animals infected with blue flu.
The severity of the crisis has meant global prices have risen substantially in intensive or semi-intensive pork producing countries not yet infected, such as the United States and Canada.
Australia, is taking steps to deal with the $2 billion threat ASF poses to the industry here.
Federal agricultural minister Bridget McKenzie announced the creation of a national feral-pig coordinator on November 8. There are an estimated 25 million feral pigs in Australia that are already responsible for annual loses of $14.5 million in agricultural production.
However, if the government’s only strategy for dealing with ASF is feral pig control, then it is almost certain that the disease will gain entry through other methods of transmission.
ASF can be transmitted through direct contact with infected animals, either wild or domestic, and parasites, such as ticks.
The virus can also survive several months in processed meat and several years in frozen carcasses. In July, meat containing the virus was found by port authorities in Northern Ireland. While Australian pig production is mainly for fresh pork products, the vast majority of bacon, ham and other cured pork products are still imported.
The Situation Room, October 2039: the president and vice president, senior generals and admirals, key cabinet members, and other top national security officers huddle around computer screens as aides speak to key officials across the country. Some screens are focused on Hurricane Monica, continuing its catastrophic path through the Carolinas and Virginia; others are following Hurricane Nicholas, now pummeling Florida and Georgia, while Hurricane Ophelia lurks behind it in the eastern Caribbean.
On another bank of screens, officials are watching horrifying scenes from Los Angeles and San Diego, where millions of people are under mandatory evacuation orders with essentially nowhere to go because of a maelstrom of raging wildfires. Other large blazes are burning out of control in Northern California and Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington State. The National Guard has been called out across much of the West, while hundreds of thousands of active-duty troops are being deployed in the disaster zones to assist in relief operations and firefighting.
With governors and lawmakers from the affected states begging for help, the president has instructed the senior military leadership to provide still more soldiers and sailors for yet more disaster relief. Unfortunately, the generals and admirals are having a hard time complying, since most of their key bases on the East and West Coasts are also under assault from storms, floods, and wildfires. Many have already been evacuated. Naval Station Norfolk, the nation’s largest naval base, for example, took a devastating hit from Monica and lies under several feet of water, rendering it inoperable. Camp Pendleton in California, a major Marine Corps facility, is once again in flames, its personnel either being evacuated or fully engaged in firefighting. Other key bases have been similarly disabled, their personnel scattered to relocation sites in the interior of the country.
Foreign threats, while not ignored in this time of domestic crisis, have lost the overriding concern they enjoyed throughout the 2020s when China and Russia were still considered major foes. By the mid-2030s, however, both of those countries were similarly preoccupied with multiple climate-related perils of their own — recurring wildfires and crop failures in Russia, severe water scarcity, staggering heat waves, and perpetually flooded coastal cities in China — and so were far less inclined to spend vast sums on sophisticated weapons systems or to engage in provocative adventures abroad. Like the United States, these countries are committing their military forces ever more frequently to disaster relief at home.
As for America’s allies in Europe: well, the days of trans-Atlantic cooperation have long since disappeared as extreme climate effects have become the main concern of most European states. To the extent that they still possess military forces, these, too, are now almost entirely devoted to flood relief, firefighting, and keeping out the masses of climate refugees fleeing perpetual heat and famine inAsia and Africa.
And so, in the Situation Room, the overriding question for U.S. security officials in 2039 boils down to this: How can we best defend the nation against the mounting threat of climate catastrophe?
The Unacknowledged Peril
Read through the formal Pentagon literature on the threats to American security today and you won’t even see the words “climate change” mentioned. This is largely because of the nation’s commander-in-chief who once claimed that global warming was a “hoax” and that we’re better off burning ever more coal and oil than protecting the nation against severe storm events or an onslaught of wildfires. Climate change has also become a hotly partisan issue in Washington and military officers are instinctively disinclined to become embroiled in partisan political fights. In addition, senior officers have come to view Russia and China as vital threats to U.S. security — far more dangerous than, say, the zealots of ISIS or al-Qaeda — and so are focused on beefing up America’s already overpowering defense capabilities yet more.
“Inter-state strategic competition, not terrorism, is now the primary concern in U.S. national security,” the Department of Defense (DoD) affirmed in its National Defense Strategy of February 2018. “Without sustained and predictable investment to restore readiness and modernize our military to make it fit for our time, we will rapidly lose our military advantage.”
Everything in the 2018 National Defense Strategy and the DoD budget documents that have been submitted to Congress since its release proceed from this premise. To better compete with China and Russia, we are told, it’s essential to spend yet more trillions of dollars over the coming decade to replace America’s supposedly aging weapons inventory — including its nuclear arsenal — with a whole new suite of ships, planes, tanks, and missiles (many incorporating advanced technologies like artificial intelligence and hypersonic warheads).
For some senior officers, especially those responsible for training and equipping America’s armed forces for combat on future battlefields, weapons modernization is now the military’s overriding priority. But for a surprising number of their compatriots, other considerations have begun to intrude into long-term strategic calculations. For those whose job it is to house all those forces and sustain them in combat, climate change has become an inescapable and growing concern. This is especially true for the commanders of facilities that would play a critical role in any future confrontation with China or Russia.
Many of the bases that would prove essential in a war with China, for example, are located on islands or in coastal areas highly exposed to sea-level rise and increasingly powerful typhoons. Naval Support Facility Diego Garcia, a major logistical and submarine base in the Indian Ocean, for example, is situated on a low-lying atoll that suffers periodic storm flooding and is likely to be submerged entirely well before the end of the century. The Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site, focused on preparing American defenses against the future use of nuclear missiles by either North Korea or China, is located on Kwajalein Atoll in the midst of the Pacific Ocean and is also destined to disappear. Similarly, the country’s major naval base in Asia, at Yokosuka, Japan, and its major air facility, at Kadena on the Japanese island of Okinawa, are located along the coast and are periodically assaulted by severe typhoons.
No less at risk are radar facilities and bases in Alaska intended for defense against Russian Arctic air and naval attacks. Many of the early-warning radars overseen by the North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD, a joint U.S.-Canadian operation, are located on the Alaskan and Canadian shores of the Arctic Ocean and so are being threatened by sea-level rise, coastal erosion, and the thawing of the permafrost on which many of them rest.
Equally vulnerable are stateside bases considered essential to the defense of this country, as well as its ability to sustain military operations abroad. Just how severe this risk has become was made painfully clear in late 2018 and early 2019, when two of the country’s most important domestic installations, Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida and Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, were largely immobilized by extreme storm events — Hurricane Michael in one case and a prolonged rainfall in the other.
Tyndall, located on a narrow strip of land projecting into the Gulf of Mexico, housed a large fraction of America’s F-22 “Raptor” stealth fighter jets along with the 601st Air and Space Operations Center (601st AOC), the main command and control unit for aerial defense of the continental United States. In anticipation of Michael’s assault, the Air Force was able to relocate key elements of the 601st AOC and most of those F-22s to other facilities out of the hurricane’s path, but some Raptors could not be moved and were damaged by the storm. According to the Air Force, 484 buildings on the base were also destroyed or damaged beyond repair and the cost of repairing the rest of the facilities was estimated at $648 million. It is, in fact, unclear if Tyndall will ever again serve as a major F-22 base or house all the key military organizations it once contained.
Offutt Air Force Base plays a similarly critical role in America’s defense operations, housing the headquarters of the Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM), which is responsible for oversight of all U.S. nuclear strike forces, including its intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). Also located at Offutt is the 55th Wing, the nation’s premier assemblage of reconnaissance and electronic-warfare aircraft. In March 2019, after a severe low-pressure system (often called a “bomb cyclone”) formed over the western plains, the upper Missouri River basin was inundated with torrential rains for several days, swelling the river and causing widespread flooding. Much of Offutt, including its vital runways, was submerged under several feet of water and some 130 buildings were damaged or destroyed. USSTRATCOM continued to operate, but many key personnel were unable to gain access to the base, causing staffing problems. As with Tyndall, immediate repairs are expected to run into the hundreds of millions of dollars and full restoration of the base’s facilities many millions more.
Wildfires in California have also imperiled key bases. In May 2014, for example, Camp Pendleton was scorched by the Tomahawk Fire, one of several conflagrations to strike the San Diego area at the time. More than 6,000 acres were burned by the blaze and children at two on-base schools had to be evacuated. At one point, a major munitions depot was threatened by flames, but firefighters managed to keep them far enough away to prevent a catastrophic explosion.
An even more dangerous fire swept through Vandenberg Air Force Base, 50 miles north of Santa Barbara, in September 2016. Vandenberg is used to launch satellite-bearing missiles into space and houses some of the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense missile interceptors that are meant to shoot down any North Korean (or possibly Chinese) ICBMs fired at this country. The 2016 blaze, called the Canyon Fire, burned more than 12,000 acres and forced the Air Force to cancel the launch of an Atlas V rocket carrying an earth-imaging satellite. Had winds not shifted at the last moment, the fire might have engulfed several of Vandenberg’s major launch sites.
Such perils have not (yet) been addressed in Pentagon documents like the National Defense Strategy and senior officers are normally reluctant to discuss them with members of the public. Nonetheless, it’s not hard to find evidence of deep anxiety among those who face the already evident ravages of climate change on a regular basis. In 2014 and 2017, analysts from the U.S. Government Accountability Office visited numerous U.S. bases at home and abroad to assess their exposure to extreme climate effects and came back with startling reports about their encounters.
“At 7 out of 15 locations we visited or contacted,” the survey team reported in 2014, “officials stated that they had observed rising sea levels and associated storm surge and associated potential impacts, or mission vulnerabilities.” Likewise, “at 9 out of 15 locations we visited or contacted, officials stated that they had observed changes in precipitation patterns and associated potential impacts,” such as severe flooding or wildfires.
Look through the congressional testimony of top Pentagon officials and you’ll find that similar indications of unease abound. “The Air Force recognizes that our installations and infrastructure are vulnerable to a wide variety of threats, including those from weather, climate, and natural events,” said John Henderson, assistant secretary of the Air Force for installations, environment and energy, at a recent hearing on installation resiliency. “Changing climate and severe weather effects have the potential to catastrophically damage or degrade the Air Force’s war-fighting readiness.”
Threats to the Home Front
At a time when U.S. bases are experiencing the ever more severe effects of climate change, the armed forces are coming under mounting pressure to assist domestic authorities in coping with increasingly damaging storms, floods, and fires from those same climate forces. A prelude to what can be expected in the future was provided by the events of August and September 2017, when the military was called upon to provide disaster relief in the wake of three particularly powerful hurricanes — Harvey, Irma, and Maria — at the very moment California and the state of Washington were being ravaged by powerful wildfires.
This unprecedented chain of disasters began on August 26th, when Harvey — then a Category 4 hurricane — made landfall near Houston, Texas, and lingered there for five agonizing days, sucking up water from the Gulf of Mexico and dumping it on that area in what proved to be the heaviest continuous rainfall in American history. With much of Houston engulfed in flood waters, the DoD mobilized 12,000 National Guard and 16,000 active-duty Army troops to assist in relief operations.
Such cleanup operations were still under way there when Irma — a Category 5 storm and one of the most powerful hurricanes ever detected in the Atlantic Ocean — struck the eastern Caribbean, Puerto Rico, and southern Florida. Guard units sent by Florida’s governor to assist in Texas were hastily recalled and the Pentagon mobilized an additional 4,500 active-duty troops for emergency operations. To bolster these forces, the Navy deployed one of its aircraft carriers, the USS Abraham Lincoln, along with a slew of support vessels.
With some Guard contingents still involved in Texas and cleanup operations just getting under way in Florida, another Category 5 storm, Maria, emerged in the Atlantic and began its fateful course toward Puerto Rico, making landfall on that island on September 20th. It severed most of that island’s electrical power lines, bringing normal life to a halt. With food and potable water in short supply, the DoD commenced yet another mobilization of more than 12,000 active-duty and Guard units. Some of them would still be there a year later, seeking to restore power and repair roads in remote, harshly affected areas.
If finding enough troops and supply systems to assist in these relief operations was a tough task — akin to mobilizing for a major war — the Pentagon faced a no less severe challenge in addressing the threats to its own forces and facilities from those very storms.
When Hurricane Irma approached Florida and the Keys, it became evident that many of the Pentagon’s crucial southern installations were likely to suffer severe damage. Notable among them was Naval Air Station (NAS) Key West, a major hub for U.S. operations in the Caribbean region. Fearing the worst, its commander ordered a mandatory evacuation for all but a handful of critical personnel. Commanders at other bases in the storm’s path also ordered evacuations, including at NAS Jacksonville in Florida and Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay in Georgia. Aircraft at these installations were flown to secure locations further inland while Kings Bay’s missile-carrying submarines were sent to sea where they could better ride out the storm. At least a dozen other installations were forced to relocate at least some personnel, planes, and ships.
Clusters of Extreme Events
While the extremity of each of these individual climate disasters can’t be attributed with absolute certainty to climate change, that they occurred at such strength over such a short time period is almost impossible to explain without reference to it. As scientists have indicated, the extremely warm waters of the Atlantic and Caribbean contributed to the fury of the three hurricanes and extreme dryness in California and the American West has resulted in severe recurring wildfires. All of these are predictable consequences of a warming planet.
That means, of course, that we can expect recurring replays of summer 2017, with multiple disasters (of ever-increasing magnitude) occurring more or less simultaneously. These, in turn, will produce ever more demands on the military for relief services, even as it is being forced to cope with the impact of such severe climate events on its own facilities. Indeed, the National Research Council (NRC), in a report commissioned by the U.S. Intelligence Community, has warned of just such a future. Speaking of what it termed “clusters of extreme events,” it noted that warming temperatures are likely to generate not just more destructive storms, but also a greater concentration of such events at the same time.
“Given the available scientific knowledge of the climate system,” the report notes, “it is prudent for security analysts to expect climate surprises in the coming decade, including… conjunctions of events occurring simultaneously or in sequence, and for them to become progressively more serious and frequent thereafter, and most likely at an accelerating rate.”
Combine the ravages of Harvey, Irma, Maria, Katrina, and Sandy with the wildfires recently blasting across California and you get some sense of what our true “national security” landscape might look like. While the Pentagon, the National Guard, and local authorities should be able to cope with any combination of two or three such events, as they did in 2017 (although, according to critics, the damage to Puerto Rico has never been fully repaired), there will come a time when the climate assault is so severe and multifaceted that U.S. leaders will be unable to address all the major disasters simultaneously and will have to pick and choose where to deploy their precious assets.
At that moment, the notion of focusing all our attention on managing military rivalries with China and Russia (or other potential adversaries) will appear dangerously distracting. Count on this: U.S. forces sent to foreign bases and conflicts (as with the never-ending wars of this century in the Greater Middle East and Africa) will undoubtedly be redeployed homeward to help overcome domestic dangers. This may seem improbable today, with China and Russia building up their arsenals to counter American forces, but scientific analyses like those conducted by the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the NRC, suggest that those two countries are then no less likely to be facing multiple catastrophes of their own and will be in no position to engage in conflicts with the United States.
And so there will come a time when a presidential visit to the Situation Room involves not a nuclear crisis or the next major terrorist attack, but rather a conjunction of severe climate events, threatening the very heartbeat of the nation.
Humans may not survive. Reports from the UN’s Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change provoke images of land masses drowning, fleeing populations, starvation, terrible droughts, terrible storms, migrating diseases, new deserts, and intolerable heat. It’s an “ecological Armageddon,” says one expert. We hear about “the sixth extinction,” the geologic epoch that is our own. It’s called the “Anthropocene.” The name suggests human activity and human responsibility.
It’s bad enough to imagine blame and scenarios of dread, as if from science fiction, but add in the presently feeble response to dire threats and we’re in a funk. If tools were available, we’d get a lift. Marc Brodine’s book Green Strategy, reviewed here, is about tools.
It’s about capitalism too. For Brodine, that’s “the root cause of most of the environmental problems we face, and is also the biggest obstacle in finding real solutions.” Those problems stem from “wide-ranging imbalances between the ways that humanity impacts nature and the limits of the resources that nature is able to provide.” For Brodine, environmental abuse manifests as climate change and also vanishing fresh water, toxins and pollutants on land and in the sea, ocean acidification, deforestation, topsoil losses, decreasing soil fertility, disappearing species, and the spread of infectious diseases.
Brodine apparently regards scientist and environmental activist Barry Commoner as a mentor. In 1997 Commoner attributed the environmental crisis to “our systems of production – in industry, agriculture, energy and transportation.” That year he predicted “global human catastrophes: higher temperatures [and] the seas rising to flood many of the world’s cities.”
Ever-expanding production is the hallmark of capitalism, and the role of capitalism in causing environmental devastation is under the microscope. “[T]his new ecological stage was connected to the rise, earlier in the century, of monopoly capitalism,” Monthly Review editor John Bellamy Foster claimed in 1994. Judgment as to who is responsible for global warming turns to the association of production, fossil fuel, and emissions as the “smoking gun.”
Knowledge of cause might have brought about strategizing. That hasn’t happened. Naomi Klein in her 2016 book This Changes Everything blamed capitalism for disturbing the climate, but limited her remedial proposals to civil-disobedience and life-style alterations.
Now the Green New Deal surfaces in response to the environmental challenge. Separate proposals sponsored by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and others and by Senator Bernie Sanders contain what Foster calls “revolutionary reforms.” In his opinion and that of Naomi Klein, whose views have evolved, these reforms could lead to transformational changes. What’s needed, says Foster, is “a mass mobilization of the entire society.”
Neither Green New Deal proponents nor commentators have explained how that might happen. How to launch education, organization, and unified action is left for another day. The Labor Network for Sustainability, The Atlantic magazine, the People’s Policy Project, and Resilience instead focus on feasibilities or on the availability of resources. The Nation magazine calls for mobilization, but offers little more.
Marc Brodine’s Green Strategy fills the void. The book is about developing political will, specifically about creating a movement “capable of building the political power to implement fundamental change.” Brodine envisions a giant coalition in which political struggle for nature would merge with other struggles.
Or more precisely: “A massive movement is needed, worldwide in scope, to fight defensive battles against environmental degradation and exploitative development. Then the movement can proceed to fight for long-term fundamental transformation of our economies.” The object is “broad-based unity to reach and organize millions of people.”
His book discusses context, science, philosophical underpinnings, environmental organizations, past political movements, mass protests, and socialism. Facts, observations, verdicts, and proposals fill a book larger by far in content than in physical size.
Brodine calls for defenders of the environment to organize politically and make linkages in many directions to build “political force.” He envisions alliances with “struggles for peace, justice, equality, health care, immigrant rights.” People will be “gaining strength from each other” from a “network of mutuality,” an expression of Martin Luther King.
Coalition-building will be reciprocal: “All progressive struggles have an environmental component, and successful alliances have been built … uniting environmental concerns with economic ones.” Environmental struggles will join with peace and justice movements throughout the world.
In his survey of U.S. movements for civil rights and labor rights, for ending apartheid and the Vietnam War, Brodine finds precedents for achieving unity and avoiding hazards. He discusses problems posed by far-left politicking, mixing moral imperatives and practicalities, and confusing tactics with strategy. He would pursue reforms and revolutionary goals simultaneously and work with “cross-class elements.”
The labor movement is a crucial player, both because of labor’s organizational expertise and because the enemies of labor are the enemies of other progressive causes. And, “Only workers have the power to shut down the economy [and to] wrest control of production decisions away from the capitalist class.”
Indeed, “Working class power is the only force capable of saving humanity from capitalism and creating a sustainable economy and sustainable environment.” The author identifies the working class as the “vast majority of humanity that works for a living.” He calls for collective solutions for environmental problems, social control of resources, and “fundamental changes to our economic system.” In essence, “socialism is a necessary precondition for the survival of the human race, for the kind of fundamental solutions humanity needs.” The socialism Brodine wants is “based on a scientific understanding” of human-caused risk to nature.
Socialist assumptions in Green Strategies are frequent but unobtrusive. The chapter on “environmental socialism” is a high point. While perhaps not the author’s prime goal, the book provides the reader with useful information on the workings and aspirations of the socialist movement, which includes the author’s own U.S. Communist Party. Socialists reading the book might be reminded as to who they are. For the others, says Brodine, fight for the environment may be “a new path to socialist consciousness, a new way to understand the need for fundamental economic change.”
Marxist theory explains how change occurs. Brodine cites interconnections, “feed-back” loops, and contradictions affecting natural and social phenomena. They lead to tensions and thus to change, which is constant. Small quantitative changes accumulate and then manifest as one big change, a qualitative one. That’s the so-called “tipping point.”
Looking at societal problems, he describes new realities and struggles impinging upon the political status quo. In theory, new political solutions follow, one after the other. Those political processes dealing with environmental challenges are under stress. They misfire and go on a new tack. Eventually they solidify into a collective human effort aimed at rescue. That’s another tipping point
Brodine is well-equipped to author a book outlining society’s response to environmental disaster. He has long headed the Communist Party’s environmental program and the book demonstrates his familiarity with research findings and dialogue in the natural sciences. Socialism, he writes, “harnesses the latest in science, technology, and social organization.”
Virginia Brodine, Marc Brodine’s mother, must have had a lot to do with why this book exists. A colleague of Barry Commoner, she was a prominent anti-nuclear and environmental activist and an author (Air Pollution and Radioactive Contamination, 1972). Her writings are collected in book Red Roots, Green Shoots (International Publishers, 2007).
Brodine’s writing style is clear and cogent. The book is well organized. Readers may object to repetition of insights and conclusions. But for this reviewer, reiteration was useful in reinforcing the author’s main points. Any future edition of the book – potentially a prize as the crisis advances – would benefit by the addition of an index.
From this vantage point, Green Strategy is a valuable and much appreciated book. It’s a primer on forming a mass movement serving the people. Grounded on science and on political and social realities, it’s well suited to have an impact on what counts, which is conscious-raising in favor of collective solutions. Above all, the book is about the survival of living things and the integrity of nature and so has ethical thrust.
Green Strategy: The Path to Fundamental Transformation
Marc Russell Brodine
(International Publishers, NY, 2018)
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Report claims 400,000 insect species face extinction amid heavy use of pesticides
The “unnoticed insect apocalypse” should set alarm bells ringing, according to conservationists, who said that without a halt there will be profound consequences for humans and all life on Earth.
A new report suggested half of all insects may have been lost since 1970 as a result of the destruction of nature and heavy use of pesticides. The report said 40% of the 1million known species of insect are facing extinction.