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Excerpt: "'The drums of war are beating. Count on climate change being drowned out.' The assumption is reasonable enough. While many politicians pay lip service to the existential urgency of the climate crisis, as soon as another more immediate crisis rears its head - war, a market shock, an epidemic - climate reliably falls off the political map."

Climate change is a growing cause of displacement and conflict where land has been devastated by drought. (photo: B. Bannon/UNHCR)
Climate change is a growing cause of displacement and conflict where land has been devastated by drought. (photo: B. Bannon/UNHCR)


Why a Climate Deal Is the Best Hope for Peace

By Naomi Klein and Jason Box, The New Yorker

28 November 15

 

oon after the horrific terror attacks in Paris, last Friday, our phones filled with messages from friends and colleagues: “So are they going to cancel the Paris climate summit?” “The drums of war are beating. Count on climate change being drowned out.” The assumption is reasonable enough. While many politicians pay lip service to the existential urgency of the climate crisis, as soon as another more immediate crisis rears its head—war, a market shock, an epidemic—climate reliably falls off the political map.

After the attacks, the French government stated that the COP21 climate summit would begin as scheduled at the end of November. Yet the police have just barred the huge planned marches and protests, effectively silencing the voices of people who are directly affected by these high-level talks. And it’s hard to see how sea-level rise and parched farmland—tough media sells at the best of times—will have a hope of competing with rapid military escalation and calls for fortressed borders.

All of this is perfectly understandable. When our safety feels threatened, it’s difficult to think of anything else. Major shocks like the Paris attacks are awfully good at changing the subject. But what if we decided to not let it happen? What if, instead of changing the subject, we deepened the discussion of climate change and expanded the range of solutions, which are fundamental for real human security? What if, instead of being pushed aside in the name of war, climate action took center stage as the planet’s best hope for peace?

The connection between warming temperatures and the cycle of Syrian violence is, by now, uncontroversial. As Secretary of State John Kerry said in Virginia, this month, “It’s not a coincidence that, immediately prior to the civil war in Syria, the country experienced its worst drought on record. As many as 1.5 million people migrated from Syria’s farms to its cities, intensifying the political unrest that was just beginning to roil and boil in the region.”

As Kerry went on to note, many factors contributed to Syria’s instability. The severe drought was one, but so were the repressive practices of a brutal dictator and the rise of a particular strain of religious extremism. Another big factor was the invasion of Iraq, a decade ago. And since that war—like so many before it—was inextricable from the West’s thirst for Iraqi oil (warming be damned), that fateful decision in turn became difficult to separate from climate change. ISIS, which has taken responsibility for the attacks in Paris, found fertile ground in this volatile context of too much oil and too little water.

If we acknowledge that the instability emanating from the Middle East has these roots, it makes little sense to allow the Paris attacks to minimize our already inadequate climate commitments. Rather, this tragedy should inspire the opposite reaction: an urgent push to lower emissions as rapidly and deeply as possible, including strong support for developing countries to leapfrog to renewable energy, creating much-needed jobs and economic opportunities in the process. That kind of bold climate transition is our only hope of preventing a future in which, as a recent paper in the journal Nature Climate Change put it, large areas of the Middle East will, by the end of the century, “experience temperature levels that are intolerable to humans.”

But even this is not enough. The deepest emission reductions can only prevent climate change from getting far worse. They can’t stop the warming that has already arrived, nor the warming that is locked in as a result of the fossil fuels we have already burned. So there is a critical piece missing from our climate conversation: the need to quickly lower atmospheric CO2 levels from the current four hundred parts per million to the upper limit of what is not considered dangerous: three hundred and fifty parts per million.

The implications of a failure to bring carbon down to safer levels go well beyond amplifying catastrophes like Syria’s historic drought. The last time atmospheric CO2 was this high, global sea levels were at least six metres higher. We find ourselves confronted with ice-sheet disintegration that, in some susceptible areas, already appears unstoppable. In the currently overloaded CO2 climate, it’s just a matter of time until hundreds of millions of people will be displaced from coastal regions, their agricultural lands and groundwater destroyed by saltwater intrusion from sea rise. Among the most vulnerable areas are broad swaths of South and Southeast Asia—which include some of the world’s biggest cities, from Shanghai to Jakarta—along with a number of coastal African and Latin American countries, such as Nigeria, Brazil, and Egypt.

A climate summit taking place against the backdrop of climate-fuelled violence and migration can only be relevant if its central goal is the creation of conditions for lasting peace. That would mean making legally enforceable commitments to leave the vast majority of known fossil-fuel reserves in the ground. It would also mean delivering real financing to developing countries to cope with the impacts of climate change, and recognizing the full rights of climate migrants to move to safer ground. A strong climate-peace agreement would also include a program to plant vast numbers of native-species trees in the Middle East and the Mediterranean, to draw down atmospheric CO2, reduce desertification, and promote cooler and moister climates. Tree planting alone is not enough to lower CO2 to safe levels, but it could help people stay on their land and protect sustainable livelihoods.

We knew that the Paris summit wasn’t going to achieve all of this. But just days ago, bold collective action on climate seemed within reach: the climate movement was accelerating, winning tangible victories against pipelines and Arctic drilling; governments were strengthening their targets, and some were even starting to stand up to fossil-fuel companies.

Enough pressure existed, it seemed, to achieve the main goals of the conference: an enforceable and binding international treaty to ratchet down carbon emissions once and for all. But the movement believed that keeping the pressure up during the summit would be critical. That just got a lot harder.

The last time there was this much climate momentum was in 2008, when Europe was leading a renewable-energy revolution and Barack Obama was pledging, as he accepted the Democratic nomination, that his election would be “the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.” Then came the full reverberations of the financial crisis. By the time the world met at the Copenhagen climate-change conference, at the end of 2009, global attention had already shifted away from climate to bank bailouts, and the deal was widely considered to be a disaster. In the years that followed, support for renewables was slashed across southern Europe, ambitions dwindled, and pledges of climate financing for the developing world virtually disappeared. Never mind that a decisive response to the climate crisis, grounded in big investments in renewables, efficiency, and public transit, could well have created enough jobs to undercut the discredited logic of economic austerity.

We cannot afford to allow this story to be repeated, this time with terror changing the subject. To the contrary, as the author and energy expert Michael T. Klare argued weeks before the attacks, Paris “should be considered not just a climate summit but a peace conference—perhaps the most significant peace convocation in history.” But it can only do that if the agreement builds a carbon-safe economy fast enough to tangibly improve lives in the here and now. We are finally starting to recognize that climate change leads to wars and economic ruin. It’s time to recognize that intelligent climate policy is fundamental to lasting peace and economic justice.


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+33 # Activista 2015-11-28 14:03
"climate change leads to wars and economic ruin. It’s time to recognize that intelligent climate policy is fundamental to lasting peace and economic justice .."
Insane USA spends $600 billion (60% of budget) on military/bombs. Imagine if we invested this amount of money into the environment, not bombs.
 
 
+18 # REDPILLED 2015-11-28 18:07
The official Pentagon budget is 54% of the annual discretionary spending budget, but this does not include many military-relate d items that are outside of the Defense Department budget, such as nuclear weapons research, maintenance, cleanup, and production, which is in the Department of Energy budget; Veterans Affairs; the Treasury Department's payments in pensions to military retirees and widows and their families; interest on debt incurred in past wars; State Department financing of foreign arms sales and militarily-rela ted development assistance; the Department of Homeland Security; counter-terrori sm spending by the Federal Bureau of Investigation; intelligence-ga thering spending by the NSA and the other 16 intelligence agencies; the CIA and its special operations all over the planet; or the 'black budget' allocated for classified and secret operations, which may total $59 billion this year.

So total U.S. war spending accounts for more than ONE TRILLION DOLLARS a year of U.S. government spending.
 
 
+4 # Activista 2015-11-28 23:12
thank you for more in depth analysis - this insanity of our system is scary. Do politicians have any children - or suicide is our future?
 
 
0 # aaheart 2015-11-29 16:35
Invest in environmental protection, not cap and trade to fill Al Gore's pockets. He co-founded Generation Investment Trading with former executives of Goldman Sachs.
 
 
+3 # Gwalihir 2015-11-28 15:07
Without the demonstrations, we can only hope the leaders of the summit still take the subject seriously and do everything they can to address it. It is sad to think how probable it is that the lack of public outcry will dull their senses to how urgently we need this to go through.

IMHO, if the conference only results in pledges to reduce emissions, it will be far too little, far too late. I hope they will discuss carbon sequestration technologies and other means to actually reverse the damage we have done to the system already. But I'm afraid they're still walking baby steps at this time. Hopefully, somebody there can prove me wrong...
 
 
+7 # REDPILLED 2015-11-28 18:11
As long as fossil fuels are profitable to the ORCs (Oligarchic Ruling Class), little beyond rhetoric will be done to keep them in the ground.

Corporate-written laws effectively externalize the real human and environmental costs of fossil fuel burning, so, unless those laws are changed to cut the profits of the Fossil Fools, we are doomed.
 
 
+26 # Blackjack 2015-11-28 18:21
What if we just listened to Bernie Sanders who has been saying for some time that climate change is the biggest threat to national security? Certainly no other politician is saying that, but once again, Bernie is right!
 
 
+9 # BobboMax 2015-11-28 19:42
@Blackjack & RedPilled;

Without intending to detract from your point about the incredible percentage of our budget that goes to the military and the incredible disregard of the climate issue by most of the candidates for president, there's an interesting facet to your concern with the climate crisis- the Pentagon is just as worried! Anybody with a lick of sense KNOWS the climate crisis is already a big security concern and it's only going to get worse and worse and worse, And, as much as I disagree with almost everything the military-indust rial complex does, they do have sense enough to realize the threat of climate change.

Now if we could just get them to take effective action- unfortunately, their main response is more guns, so they can kill any little brown people that try to sneak into our sovereign country. Or even better, more drones to kill them in their own countries. For some perspective on our military dominance, go to http://www.businessinsider.com/magnitude-of-us-naval-dominance-2013-11- we have 19 aircraft carriers vs 12 in the entire rest of the world.

If we put 10% of our military budget into renewable energy and electric cars & trucks, we could cut our military budget by 20%, because we'd no longer have to worry about protecting all of our oil that just happens to be under Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, UAE, etc.
 
 
-3 # aaheart 2015-11-29 16:43
Presenting "climate change" as anything but a propaganda meme is testimony to the political correctness superseding science fact, scientific principle, and scientific logic. Global warming was the original meme to accomplish the manipulation of liberal thought and action.
 
 
+8 # bardphile 2015-11-28 18:50
And there is the closely related issue of population growth. Almost without exception, the unstable nations or failed states of the Middle East and Africa are the ones that have not participated in the general decline of fertility in recent decades, and climate change is hitting many of them particularly hard.
 
 
+2 # DaveEwoldt 2015-11-29 13:53
And the reason that's true is because U.S. foreign policy generally stipulates that any aid will be granted only if the country doesn't practice family planning (abstinence only) or protect the rights of women (control of their own bodies).

This has been especially true in Africa along with a requirement to use aid money to purchase subsidized U.S. grown foodstuffs instead of building the infrastructure to grow their own drought-toleran t crops.
 
 
+12 # Farafalla 2015-11-28 19:08
Actually many of the countries affected by political violence have low fertility rates and high use of contraceptives. Lebanon has a fertility rate comparable to Latin America. Iran has the lowest fertility rate and highest use of contraceptives.

See: http://www.prb.org/Publications/Articles/2005/AchievingtheMDGsintheMiddleEastWhyImprovedReproductiveHealthisKey.aspx
 
 
+1 # bardphile 2015-11-29 02:20
Iran is neither unstable nor failed, nor would Lebanon be, if Iran and Syria would let it alone.
 
 
+10 # Maenad 2015-11-28 20:05
Since militarism is the largest single source of greenhouse gas emissions on the planet, a better focus would be a united global campaign, a Global General Strike, to convert trillions in military funding to peaceful collaboration. Instead, we are in our separate silos fighting this and that social justice issue, all related to the diversion of funds to aggression and violence for oil for more war for more oil.

Can you imagine telling a refugee or citizen of a bombed out country scanning the skies for drones that war is a distraction​? What ​Klein thinks is REALLY important. . ."building a carbon-safe economy."

The last gasp of mad imperialistic capitalism.
 
 
+4 # sharag 2015-11-29 00:34
The U.S. Department of Defense put out reports years ago recognizing climate change as a national and international security threat with mass migrations and their manifestations as droubts increase and sea levels rise. However, corporations with fossil fuel interests have done a good job at at confusing this issue and buying off political decision makers. A crime of immense proportion. The Paris climate summit really is the last chance to address this and collectively take action and save the planet from the chaos we seem to be descending into. Urge your political representatives , no matter where you are, to do the right thing.
 
 
0 # DaveEwoldt 2015-11-29 13:30
I think that it's "wars and economic ruin" that lead to climate change, not the other way around as Klein states. More accurately, these are all emergent (and unavoidable) attributes of Industrialism. Otherwise I fully agree with Klein's basic premise.
 

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