Greenwashing War


Liberal Burlington, Vermont Mayor Bob Kiss is a former conscientious objector whose Progressive Party touts a platform totally at odds with war profiteers like Lockheed Martin. So for him to be jeered at by climate change and peace activists in a recent city council meeting was a strange spectacle. From the Wisconsin Statehouse to Washington DC, America's public sector has come under attack. In Burlington, the current protests are in response to a secretive Lockheed/ Burlington “letter of understanding” signed by Kiss between Burlington and the world's largest war profiteer.

 

The Burlington City Council passed 10-4 a resolution calling for community standards and public input at the meeting while the feisty crowd of nuns, teachers, green engineers, and community organizers urged Mayor Kiss to go a step further and tear up the “letter of understanding.” The proposed agreement would have Burlington “test drive” some of Lockheed's “market driven” climate change “technologies.” Charges of “corporate greenwashing” and hypocrisy have resounded through the grassroots since the news broke in a local alternative weekly in December. Kiss, whose Progressive Party has, for 28 of the last 30 years, controlled city hall, was learning what many social movements that assume governmental control learn: wielding power without alienating the community organizers and social movements that put leaders into office can prove to be a difficult balance.

 

In explaining the Lockheed talks, Kiss was quick to invoke crisis and urgency, saying, “There's enough urgency to this issue of climate change that we need to look for all the partners that are out there.” So it's perhaps surprising that Kiss hasn't convened his Mayoral Task Force on Climate Change (E2C2), which is full of award-winning local climate change talent and has existed since November 2005. Instead, Kiss approached Lockheed about the deal at the inaugural “Carbon War Room,” which took place simultaneously with the Vancouver Olympics. The Carbon War Room is a pet project of billionaire Sir Richard Branson, CEO of Virgin Group. Branson's music and cola empire counts among its corporate family global warming contributors like Virgin Airlines and the carbon emissions nightmare of Virgin Galactic, space tourism for $200,000 a ticket. Branson's Carbon War Room partners cities with corporations like Lockheed and private financiers to create “market based solutions,” better known as corporate profiteering from climate change.

 

Green-wash: (n) Disinformation disseminated by an organization so as to present an environmentally responsible public image. Derivatives greenwashing (n). Origin from green on the pattern of whitewash.

 

- The Tenth Edition of the Concise Oxford English Dictionary


Branson's War Room describes itself as a “30-month challenge to help cities around the world use innovative mechanisms to bring capital, energy technologies and jobs to their citizens in a sustainable and wealth creating way.” Wealth creating in this sense means privatizing existing nonprofit climate-change-fighting measures like the PACE program. (PACE lets U.S. homeowners bundle home renewable energy financing into their mortgage, spreading out the payments over 25-30 years instead of the usual home improvement loan term of five years.) According to the Carbon War Room's literature, the United States' PACE market, “is valued at $500 billion.” This sort of privatization, which spins governmental non-profit programs into new markets, and thereby so much gold for “gold-level” corporate sponsors of the “War Room” like Lockheed, and billionaires like Branson, is but one of the objectionable pieces of the deal to its detractors. Throughout the 30-month Carbon War Room and forever afterwards there is no limit to how many times Burlington can be featured in Lockheed PR.

 

The single-sided, single-page letter of understanding details vague projects for Lockheed to partner with Burlington on, including: “Urban Triage,” “Vertical Wind Turbines,” “Solar Photovoltaic Systems,” “Telemetrics,” and “three dimensional LIDAR City models,” which even Kiss described as creepy.

 

Kiss, in defending the Lockheed partnership invoked Bill McKibben, author of Eaarth and founder of 350.org. So it was a bit of a rebuke to have McKibben critique the deal recently: “As someone who thinks a lot about local economies, one of the things we're really good in Vermont at, better than Lockheed, is these kind of solutions. We probably don't have to go to find that outside help. I take seriously the idea that people can change, it's harder to see how a corporation as deeply enmeshed in one way of doing business and looking at the world as Lockheed is can change…. If Lockheed was willing to pull out of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and say 'they don't speak for us, we don't like the way they deal with climate energy'…then I'd be willing to give them a look at what they wanted to do here in Burlington. I don't think that's going to happen and until it does I would be disinclined to get too deeply in bed with them.”

 

McKibben's latest 350 campaign, “U.S. Chamber Doesn't Speak For Me,” is working to “show that when it comes to climate and energy, the Chamber of Commerce represents the interests of big polluters, not everyday American business.” According to a recent New York Times article the Chamber of Commerce board “includes executives from some of the nation's biggest companies, including Lockheed Martin.” According to the same article, the Chamber said, “a suit by eight states against power companies over carbon dioxide emissions has potentially disastrous implications for the U.S. business community.”

 

“Are We For Bomb Makers?”

 

One of the controversial aspects of the deal would allow Lockheed engineers to work inside Burlington schools with schoolchildren. In the past five years parents' and students' outrage boiled over when war profiteer General Dynamics' program of giving away pencils, bookmarks, and books stamped with their corporate logo came to light. When a nine-year-old student at Burlington's Champlain Elementary was faced with going to an assembly during the school day to listen to General Dynamics employees, her mom Laurie says her daughter Willa asked, “Are we for bomb makers? Do we think it's right to kill people?” Due to Willa's teacher's perception that nine-year-old Willa might offend the weapons manufacturers' employees, the teacher, “brought all the other students down to get their free books and left my daughter sitting alone in the classroom,” Laurie says. Long-time Vermont peace activist Joseph Gainza remarked in an interview, “I would hope that the city of Burlington and the Burlington School District wouldn't let a corporate member of the military industrial complex take credit for solving the climate change problems it helps every day to perpetuate.”

 

At the February 7 city council meeting, Willa, now 15, implored the council to “think about my school. When I was in third grade I took a stand against General Dynamics and now six years later, facing another crisis where companies are trying to greenwash their reputation, I'm asking you not just as a Vermonter who believes in peace, but as someone who actually is going to have to deal with [Lockheed] in my school.”

 

In a written statement regarding the Lockheed deal, Willa's mom wrote: “It saddens me that after so many parents and concerned citizens worked to come up with a thoughtful policy regarding corporations in our school district, the mayor of Burlington would so blatantly ignore the intent of that policy and invite Lockheed Martin into our schools. Citizens of Burlington and the School Board made clear that we did not want our children to be used for public relations reasons, especially the sort of reputation laundering that military contractors like Lockheed Martin or General Dynamics rely on so that no one pays much attention to the death and destruction they actually produce. Moral questions aside, there is the opportunity cost of giving over 50 percent of our federal tax revenues to the military-industrial complex, thereby making it impossible to adequately fund our schools in the first place. Lockheed Martin profits from war; our children do not, but then are expected to be grateful for whatever crumbs these corporations throw back at them.”

 

Even members of Kiss's own party went public with their disapproval of Lockheed's involvement with Burlington schoolkids. Meg Brook, chair of Chittenden County Progressives, said, “I've given many hours to council students how to avoid war. I've fought to remove military recruiters from our schools. I regularly taught classes in non-violent conflict resolution in Vermont high schools…. [I am] deeply concerned by the way we normalize violence and war and desensitize our young to the horror our military perpetrates, especially on the young, women, and the elderly. Welcoming one of the leaders of this military industrial complex into our schools goes against all I, and many others, believe. I do not want young Vermonters to see the Lockheed logo on TV and have a positive thought about what that business might have done in their school.”

 

“We Never Forget Who We Work For”

 

Lockheed Martin's motto, “We Never Forget Who We Work For” takes a different meaning when one considers that 84 percent of Lockheed's revenue comes from the U.S. government, with the majority of that being Pentagon contracts. In 2010, Lockheed contracted 98 different lobbyists, was mentioned in 142 Congressional bills, and spent nearly $10 million in lobbying. In Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military Industrial Complex, journalist William Hartung says, “Lockheed is the nation's top governmental contractor, with $36 billion in federal contracts in 2008 alone. That comes to roughly $260 per taxpaying household, an amount that can be thought of as the 'Lockheed Martin tax'.” Further, something is seriously amiss when George W. Bush's Department of Justice, not exactly known as Wall Street's sheriff or for setting precedents in corporate crime prosecution, files a 2007 fraud lawsuit against a corporation raking in a net $3.033 billion in FY 2007. (For a sense of scope, it's worth noting that 1 percent of Lockheed Martin's annual profits roughly equal the city of Burlington's annual budget.)

 


 

Given Lockheed's history of fraud, rampant cost overruns, and white elephant projects like the C-5, the F-22, and the F-35, things must have risen to truly historic levels of fraud for Bush's DOJ to take action. Indeed, Lockheed is number one in the Federal Contractor Misconduct Database at 54 instances of contractor misconduct totaling $577.4 million in settlements, nearly twice as many as the next closest war profiteer. Then there are the unspoken ironies of Lockheed working on climate change. The U.S. military, with all its Lockheed technologies has a 363,000 barrel per day oil habit, making it the single largest purchaser of oil in the world. If the U.S. military were a country, it would be among the top 20 countries in annual oil consumption. As Meg Brook said, “The military is the number one enemy of sustainability and Lockheed isn't going to do much to change that as their money comes from manufacturing machines that are completely unsustainable. Their F35s, which threaten our environment, use 2,000-4,000 gallons of fuel an hour.” Environmental author Brian Tokar agrees, saying, “Lockheed's F35s and other military hardware are among the most petroleum-gorging products in the world. Burlington doesn't need their noisy fighter jets, nor should Vermont tolerate Lockheed's feeble attempts to greenwash their image.”

 

It was city councilor Emma Mulvaney-Stanak, of the Progressive Party, whose resolution calling for transparency and community standards passed overwhelmingly. She said in a statement, “When any municipality considers partnering with a corporation, there needs to be some sort of conversation around a set of standards and principals that reflect the community. With Burlington those standard would need to include language to reflect issues long enshrined in the fabric of the City's life: human rights issues, equality issues, peace and war issues. Any agreement or discussion needs to be guided by these community standards, be it on a project level or a policy level. Sometimes the money involved in a potential deal or partnership is not enough to compromise these principals. This deal, frankly, considering Lockheed's long track record, would violate any reasonable community standards for the City of Burlington.”

 

Author Naomi Klein writes that when George W. Bush needed a media campaign to sell our country on the case for going to war with Iraq, he turned to Lockheed Martin. One-time Nixon and Reagan cabinet member George Shultz teamed with Lockheed officials Bruce Jackson, Charles Kupperman, and Douglas Graham and became the “Committee for the Liberation” of Iraq. There's a good chance you heard their Lockheed manufactured soundbites on network news or read their “op-ads” in local newspapers. As a special thanks, Lockheed's troubled B-2 Stealth Bomber was given prime product placement—the leading role in launching the live-broadcast of the 2003 invasion of Iraq after which Lockheed's stock almost tripled from $41 per share to $102 per share.

 

It is this current war in Iraq where Donald Rumsfeld encouraged Lockheed and others to turn the battlefield into a laboratory of free market economics, outsourcing, and privatization. Now Burlington is about to bring the results home to roost. According to Hartung, “Since the 1950s Lockheed has been at the forefront of industry diversification” so as to ensure against a downturn in profits during peacetime like Lockheed experienced as the end of WWII. “As Lockheed President Robert Gross put it in his reflection on the immediate postwar situation, 'As long as I live I will never forget those short, appalling weeks'.” To that end a recent article in the Nation points out that Lockheed “now does work for more than two dozen government agencies from the Department of Defense and the Department of Energy to the Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency. It's involved in surveillance and information processing for the CIA, the FBI, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the National Security Agency (NSA), the Pentagon, the Census Bureau, and the Postal Service. Oh, and Lockheed Martin has even helped train those friendly Transportation Security Administration agents who pat you down at the airport.” According to Prophets of War, Lockheed performs drone bombing in Pakistan, buys up controversial companies interrogating prisoners at places such as Abu Ghraib, lobbies against nuclear weapons treaties, and performs warrantless wiretapping for the federal government.

 

Klein writes of the war in Iraq, “Since every possible aspect of both deconstruction and reconstruction has been outsourced and privatized, there's an economic boom when the bombs start falling, when they stop and when they start up again—a closed profit loop of destruction and reconstruction, of tearing down and building up. For companies that are clever and farsighted like Halliburton and the Carlyle Group, the destroyers and re-builders are different divisions of the same corporations.” So far are we down this path that, “The actual government has lost the ability to perform its core functions without the help of contractors. When Katrina hit, FEMA had to hire a contractor to award contracts to the contractors.” So it should be no surprise that the same Lockheed would see local climate change efforts as its next emerging market in trying to create that closed profit loop of destruction and reconstruction, of tearing down and building up. Unless its citizens act, Burlington will be its laboratory.

 

Lockheed and Grassroots Organizers

 

Frankly, what isn't immediately clear is what is left for Lockheed engineers to do around climate change in Burlington that isn't currently being done by Burlington's many NGOs, non-profits, and local companies. From award-winning Efficiency Vermont to agrefresh.org, from the University of Vermont's Gund Institute to Burlington Walk/Bike Council, from carsharevt.org to 350.org, from Permaculture Burlington to the Localvore movement, and on and on. Even the Department of Public Works is involved, installing rainwater gardens into the street in Burlington's Old North End. “Corporations like Lockheed Martin are simultaneously funding the denial of global warming and trying to profit from it,” says Tokar, director of Plainfield, Vermont's Institute of Social Ecology and author of Toward Climate Justice. “It's hard to imagine what they could possibly contribute to Burlington's already leading-edge efforts to become greener and more self-reliant.” Brook states, “Lockheed is going to…take credit for 20 years of grassroots organizers' blood and sweat, paid for out of their own pockets.” Executive Director Jeffrey Frost of Burlington-based climate change corporation AgRefresh says, “For the past dozen years my work has been directed towards the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and the fight against the impending calamities of climate change. During those years I have met worldwide with literally thousands of smart, committed people from all walks of life, but have never observed Lockheed or its people taking a leadership role on climate change.”

 

The F-35 is Lockheed's new next generation fighter plane, which is controversially slated to be stationed at Burlington Airport. James Leas, one of the main organizers of the Stop the F-35 Coalition in Burlington, writes in a widely circulated open letter to Kiss, “Please help me understand how Lockheed Martin, a company that is one of the chief purveyors of death and destruction, is going to be telling Burlington about sustainability?”

 

That said, if this pact between Burlington and Lockheed was purely a results-based “most sustainability bang for the buck” venture, and not about corporate greenwashing, wouldn't Lockheed silently fund the many engineers and community organizers who have been doing climate change and sustainability work inside Burlington for decades, often with little resources? If Lockheed wanted to get the most climate change prevention for their investment, without causing ripples, they could dovetail with Burlington's award-winning Climate Action Plan and the 200 project ideas it generated with public input.

 

Or perhaps they could fund under-capitalized companies like Efficiency Vermont, whose low income home weatherization has a two year waiting list. Additionally, there is an unfunded Chittenden County Metropolitan Planning Organization study on how physical barriers to separate bike lanes from car traffic would impact downtown business. In many cities where the study has been done, physical barriers to demarcate bike lanes from car traffic have been shown to create safer, friendlier communities. One climate change consultant estimated the cost of which to be about $10,000 or about the cost of 1/5th of one second in Iraq War spending. But if it were an anonymous benefactor, Lockheed couldn't ride Burlington's credibility to the bank and credibility is the only thing war profiteers like Lockheed Martin can't buy.

 

The Need for Action

 

Both the media and community members have discussed possible civil disobedience to stop this contract with Lockheed. At the end of a meeting with the mayor, after demurring several times, Kiss commented on the degree to which the outraged grassroots of Burlington can shape the outcome. “Well, there's nothing certain in it. This is just a letter of intent, it doesn't have specific benchmarks for specific projects.”

 

What the mayor seemed to be saying is that Vermonters can shape the outcome by calling and emailing him, by organizing friends and neighbors, and continually raising the stakes. The Burlington City Council has proven to be responsive policymakers when citizens organize and make demands of them in meetings packed with advocates. Indeed, that is exactly how Burlington passed a resolution to boycott the state of Arizona over its controversial immigration law SB 1070 and how legislation pushed by the police and a business organization to make it a crime to be poor on public sidewalks was stopped cold.

 

Undaunted Burlingtonians are continuing to organize against Lockheed by gathering signatures, speaking out in Neighborhood Planning Assembly meetings, and writing letters to the editor and op-eds. Everything depends on community organizers building a countervailing pressure to the moneyed interests of corporations and the military which is so strong that elected officials have no choice but to do the moral, just, and right thing.

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Jonathan Leavitt is a community organizer and writer based in Burlington, Vermont. Earlier versions of this article appeared on TowardFreedom.com and in Vermont Commons.