A united front against climate catastrophe

Aggressive militarism continues to emanate from the office of the presidency and the US government itself. With drone strikes in foreign countries, an “empire of drone bases” in Africa as the Washington Post once called it, and a continuing war in Afghanistan, you would think that there would be mass protests on the streets against these injustices. Instead, there have been noble and honorable protests against drones, the war in Afghanistan, Bush era war criminals, and so on, but they have been too limited. At the same time, protests calling for the coming climate catastrophe to be adequately addressed have been growing among indigenous people and concerned citizens in both the Global North and the Global South. This is despite a laser focus of the big environmental organizations, Gang Green, on stopping Keystone XL but not a focus on many other issues. This article outlines why the peace movement[1] and the environmental movement within the United States should join together as a united front against corporate power and global neoliberal capitalism.

The idea that differing causes should be combined together is not a new one. As peace activist David Swanson recently noted, “the military is our top consumer of petroleum and creator of superfund sites, in addition to being the hole into which we sink the funds that could address the real danger of climate change.” The California-based Peace and Freedom Party, a self-declared democratic socialist party, made an even clearer connection between the two movements on this year’s Earth Day, writing: “perhaps it is time that we ask that leading environmental organizations…[to not] let the war-mongers themselves off the hook [since]…the worst environmental impact of the military is its role in maintaining the global system of corporate capitalism that puts profits before people and the planet.” In the introduction to Defending the Earth, David Levine, of now-defunct Learning Alliance, wrote that within the “radical ecology movement,” there are “creative opportunities…for building alliances and connections across community, issue, race, gender, class, and political lines.”[2] While this article does not touch on the what Levine terms the “radical ecology movement” or connect these two movements on race, gender or class lines, it will focus on ways to unite the environmental and peace movements on political lines and certain issues.

In hoping that there would be overlap of corporate directors, I came up with a list of about 16 companies in the military-industrial and energy industries. Using an approach similar to Professor G. William Domhoff, I looked at the interlocking directorates or “linkages among corporations created by individuals who sit on two or more corporate boards” which is usually a minority of the overall corporate directors, who form part of the “core of the leadership group for the upper class and the corporate community.” I found that there were very few interlocks between these corporations and only 12 of the 16 companies I had originally looked at even had interlocking directors.[3] According to corporate websites which listed their boards of directors, Boeing, Caterpillar [4], and Chevron had the most interlocking members. While I was hoping originally to find more overlap between the military-industrial and energy industries with the idea that those in both movements would be fighting the same group of corporate directors, my analysis shows that is not the case.

Rather than something such as corporate directors in the military-industrial and energy industries being a rallying point, it is something more direct: American hegemony. After all, in a passage about “terrorism against American interests,” the 9/11 commission’s final report famously declared, “the American homeland is the planet.” If this is the case, then “the world’s problems should be seen from the perspective of the United States” which declared in the Bush administration and followed by the Obama administration, that “the needs of Americans [are] far greater than those of the rest of the world, meaning that the “dangers to the planet must be subordinated to the desires of American consumers.”[5] Opposition to such an US-centric approach to addressing the climate catastrophe and American hegemony could tie both movements together. One should not forget that Chuck Hagel, prior to becoming Secretary of Defense, “sat on the Board of Directors of [the] Chevron Corporation which has committed many crimes against humanity and has received government contracts,” a conflict of interest which was not only criticized by right-wing publications like Commentary and Free Beacon but also in the Progressive.[6] There is more. The U.S. itself is “involved in covert and overt wars all over the world, in order to plunder indigenous resources for corporate profit” as argued by genderqueer activist Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore and engages in “genocidal campaigns for U.S. imperialism and corporate profit” as argued by black and queer activist Jamal Rashad Jones, who teaches creative writing and spends his time developing “autonomous, Marxist and queer spaces.” [7]

This leads to a possible overlap between the environmental and peace movements: war for resources. As Alan Maass, editor of Socialist Worker, argued, the “first priority” of U.S. and British forces in the 2003 invasion of Iraq was protect Iraq’s oil fields and in 1990, after Saddam Hussein invaded the country, the U.S. and allied forces intervened in Kuwait because Hussein’s invasion threatened “the flow of Middle East oil.” [8] Only two years earlier, there was the invasion of Afghanistan, a country which Gore Vidal, writer and public intellectual, argued was the gateway to “Eurasian mineral wealth,” and was more importantly, a war fought to make Afghanistan safe for Unocal or Union Oil of California.[9] This company wanted to get oil from the Caspian area and move it via pipeline (which is still being built) “through Afghanistan to Pakistan to Karachi” and then ship it to China because it would be “enormously profitable” for them.[10] In 2011, there was the invasion of Libya by Western powers, which I aptly called “Obama’s imperialist war” at the time since it was simply a “war for oil.” Such wars for resources, including the invasions of Mali and the Central African Republic in the past year led by the French, will seemingly continue. As Michael T. Klare, defense correspondent for The Nation, noted, in petro-states like the U.S., “government and corporate officials are so wedded to fossil fuel profits…that they are quite incapable of overcoming their craving for even greater levels of production” that involves drilling for unconventional fuels with practices such as deep-water drilling and fracking which has an “extreme impact on the environment.”[11] This is connected to what Klare calls a “global scarcity of vital resources” which will multiply “resource-driven potential conflicts” as part of what he calls “a global drive to find and exploit the world’s final resource reserves” or a “race for what’s left.” [12] In this way, environmentalism can be deeply interlinked with opposing militarism and wanting an end to war, with many past and future conflicts being resource-based. It would be logical to connect a radical response to the coming climate catastrophe to that which opposes wars over energy resources that will become harder to get like oil and/or natural gas or other sources of dirty energy like uranium for nuclear power, coal, etc….

While opposing militarism and resource-based wars can be an easy overlap for both movements, there is something that affects all social movements and members of society: global capitalism. Nowadays, such capitalism takes the form of neoliberalism, which Bruce A. Dixon recently defined in Black Agenda Report as a “backward, predatory notion, that every civic, social or human function ought to be governed by and through the market.” As free market fundamentalist Thomas Friedman opined in 1999, “the hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist — McDonald’s cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas, the builder of the F-15. And the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley’s technologies is called the United States Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps.”[13] This adds to what Alan Maass calls “capitalism’s blind drive for profit” which he says has an innate “drive to war” and wreaks “havoc on the environment” in part because “it’s profitable to pollute, even if that means the devastation of the environment on a vast and irreversible scale.”[14] This is something that should not be forgotten by those fighting for justice in either movement. As political scientist and activist Michael Parenti reminds us, the “relentless pursuit of profit…is an unavoidable fact of capitalism.” [15] This drive for profit is in part the reason that politicians and capitalists refuse to “halt the destruction of the ecosystem” which will eventually make the Earth “unfit for human existence.”[16]

While opposing capitalism may help unite both the environmental and peace movements, there is something simpler: the US military’s use of weapons that damage the environment. Author and historian William Blum, in his book, Rogue State, writes about radioactive and “chemically toxic” depleted uranium, used by US armed forces in foreign countries, dropped in Puerto Rico and tested in New Mexico’s Los Alamos National Laboratory, that can lead to “lung cancer, bone cancer, kidney disease, genetic defects” and more, especially if such uranium gets “into the food chain or [in the] water.”[17] If this isn’t horrible enough, the U.S. has used or dropped biological and/or chemical weapons in the Bahamas, Cuba, Korea, Vietnam, Laos, Panama, and at “thousands of American military installations,” leaving behind “serious environmental damage.”[18] Such weapons were also used within the U.S., specifically in the Virgin Islands, Chicago, Minneapolis, St. Louis, Washington D.C., New York City, and much more.[19] Just from what William Blum wrote about, one could call for linkages between the environmental and peace movements.

Still, there is something more direct: the U.S. military is the world’s biggest polluter. Specifically, it is responsible for “the most egregious and widespread pollution of the planet” and constitutes the “world’s most destructive force” on the environment with the “most fossil fuel burned, most greenhouse gases released” and so on. [20] The US military, which is not bound by EPA Superfund rules, is not only the biggest polluter, but the military itself is an “environmentally destructive and dehabilitating force” which produces hazardous wastes such as pesticides, defoliants, petroleum and so on.[21] Freelance writer and investigator Lou Freshwater even launched a campaign on Beacon Reader to investigate the “over one hundred contaminated military sites on the EPA’s National Priorities List.” Some such as Michael Eisenhower, National Coordinator of U.S. Labor Against War, connect the dots, saying that “our misguided military spending is a leading cause of pollution that is accelerating global warming, putting not only our nation but all of humanity at risk.” By this token, it would be logical to oppose militarism and warmongering as an environmentally-conscious approach, while pushing for discarded hazardous wastes to be cleaned up and to scale back the US military in order to, in the words of the late Chalmers Johnson, put the welfare of US citizens “ahead of the pretensions of imperialists.”[22]

It is clear that there are many issues the peace movement and the environmental movement could unite together on. It is the only way, in my view, that the weak peace movement can be re-invigorated and enlarged, while also constituting a creative approach that counters the climate catastrophe, caused by human-induced climate change. In uniting such movements, it is important to recall critical theorist Herbert Marcuse, who said, citing psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, that “civilization necessitates intensified repression” in the face of realistic liberation, leading to “surplus aggressiveness” that is channeled into “socially useful aggressiveness” which includes “militarization…direct attack on the life instincts in their drive to save the environment, [and an] attack on the legislation against pollution.”[23] While uniting these two movements is not the liberation that Marcuse is talking about, activists in both movements should restrain themselves from engaging in “socially useful aggressiveness” while realizing that such aggressiveness is “rooted in the infrastructure of advanced capitalism itself.”[24] In closing, I believe that the unification of the environmental and peace movements will create a strong and united front that resists the dispersed power of neoliberal global capitalism and entrenched corporate power.


The image used at the beginning of this article comes from this recent interview with Chomsky.

[1] This article calls protests against drones, the war in Afghanistan, war criminals like Bush & Cheney, and other actions as the peace movement. Many would call this the antiwar movement, but the words peace is much more positive than antiwar. Also, if one calls something ‘anti’ there is a dynamic where there many characteristics of the original thing being opposed (in this case war) manifest themselves in the ‘anti-thing’ you are trying to create.

[2] Levine, D. (1991). Forward: Turning Debate Into Dialogue. Defending the Earth: A Dialogue Between Murray Bookchin and Dave Foreman (p. 5). U.S.A.: South End Press.

[3] There were 12 corporations which had interlocking directors with someone in the military-industrial or energy industries: Boeing, Caterpillar, Honeywell International, General Dynamics, Northrop Grumman, DuPont, BAE Systems International, TransCanada, Royal Dutch Shell, Chevron, Lockheed Martin, and Marathon Oil

[4] Caterpillar is used in this analysis because they assist in extractive energy processes like fracking, mining, and so on either directly or by having their vehicles used in such processes as noted here, here, here, here, here, and here, among other sources. Also Caterpillar supports the Israeli occupation of Palestine in helping demolish Palestinian homes (also see here) and their CEO “offered advice” on the manufactured crisis called the ‘fiscal cliff’ in late 2012.

[5] Sardar, Z., & Davies, M. W. (2002). Chapter Three. America and the World as America. Why do people hate America? (pp. 80-81). New York: Disinformation.

[6] The quote used here comes from the first part of my two-part article on Obama’s energy doctrine (the second part can be read here) which argues that Obama has a doctrine to push for increased use of dirty energy across the world and within the US. Other articles referenced here include Allen Ruff’s ‘Why Progressives Should Oppose Hagel‘ in the Progressive, articles in Commentary magazine titledHagel Sits on Board of Oil Company Accused of Human Rights Violations‘ and ‘Environmentalist Group Alarmed by Hagel’s Chevron Role,’ and finally ‘Hagel’s Chevron Does Big Business with Pentagon‘ in the Washington Free Beacon.

[7] Sycamore, M. B., & Jones, J. R. (2011). Against equality: don’t ask to fight their wars (pp. 7, 53, 82). Lewiston, ME: Against Equality Press. The book is edited by Ryan Conrad, but Sycamore and Jones wrote the specific piece that are referenced here. On Jones’s wordpress, he defines himself as “a developing Marxist, who happens to be Queer and Black…[who] seek[s] to open dialogue that engages in making a strategy that can win, that can destroy the walls erected by the racists and the ruling class.”

[8] Maass, A. (2010). The case for socialism (2nd ed., pp. 11, 36). Chicago, Ill.: Haymarket Books. Michael Moore confirms this view in his documentary, Fahrenheit 451 when he quotes a reporter who says the US “is now a major player in the Iraqi oil business” and that US troops guard “oil fields as Texas oil workers assess their potential.” Greg Palast on the other hand has a bit of a different view, citing a 323 page memo crafted by George W. Bush’s State Department on the subject of Iraq’s oil, arguing that the war in Iraq was not ‘blood for oil’ but rather “…something far more sinister: blood for no oil [a] war to keep supply tight and send prices skyward” which he says is a sign that George W. Bush ‘won’ the Iraq war.

[9] Vidal, G. (2002). Dreaming war: blood for oil and the Cheney-Bush junta (pp. 19-20). New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press/Nation Books.

[10] Ibid, 187. Other writers have concurred with Vidal, some like the Iran Review, G. Asgar Mitha writing for CounterCurrents, say its part of a ‘New Great Game’ and others like journalist Eric Margolis saying the US presence is a protection force for these energy interests as noted here and here, journalist John Pilger in 2003 in The Guardian and part of Michael Moore’s documentary, Fahrenheit 451 which notes how Cheney’s Halliburton benefited when “Afghanistan signed an agreement with her neighboring countries to build a pipeline through Afghanistan carrying natural gas from the Caspian Sea.”

[11] See Michael T. Klare’s two pieces on TomDispatch: ‘Carbon Delirium: The Last Stage of Fossil-Fuel Addiction and Its Hazardous Impact on American Foreign Policy‘ and ‘The Third Carbon Age: Don’t for a Second Imagine We’re Heading for an Era of Renewable Energy.’

[12] See Klare’s article on TomDispatch titled ‘Entering a Resource-Shock World: How Resource Scarcity and Climate Change Could Produce a Global Explosion‘ and the introduction of Klare’s book, The Race for What’s Left: The Global Scramble for the World’s Last Resources after a subheading titled ‘The Race for What’s Left’

[13] Originally I found this quote on page 40 of Alan Maass’s The Case for Socialism, but in searching online, I found the original article, titled ‘A Manifesto for the Fast World,’ published in 1999 in New York Times Magazine.

[14] Maass, A. (2010). Chapter 3. The madness of the free market. The case for socialism (2nd ed., pp. 56-57). Chicago, Ill.: Haymarket Books.

[15] Parenti, M. (1983). Chapter 2. Wealth and Want in the United States. Democracy for the few (Fourth Edition ed., p. 17). New York: St. Martin’s Press.

[16] Hedges, C., & Sacco, J. (2012). Days of Devestation: Welch, West Virginia. Days of destruction, days of revolt (p. 150). New York: Nation Books.

[17] Blum, W. (2000). Depleted Uranium. Rogue state: a guide to the world’s only superpower (pp. 96-99). Monroe, Me.: Common Courage Press.

[18] Ibid, 101-112

[19] Ibid, 113-117

[20] See Project Censored’s October 2010 article titled ‘US Department of Defense is the Worst Polluter on the Planet‘ and ‘Filthy War Machine: US Military Industrial Complex, World’s Worst Polluter‘ in Earth First! Journal. Other articles on this subject include ‘Military Pollution: The Quintessential Universal Soldier‘ by Lucinda Marshall, ‘The Silent Casualty of War: The Global Environment‘ and ‘Military Hazardous Waste Sickens Land and People‘ by H. Patricia Hynes, ‘War on the Earth‘ by Bob Feldman, two articles on Alternet: ‘The Pentagon Is America’s Biggest Polluter‘ and ‘The U.S. Military’s War on the Earth

[21] See ‘US Military: Still the World’s Largest Polluter‘ by Brian Merchant and ‘The World’s Worst polluter is the US Military‘ in Green Lifestyle Magazine.

[22] Johnson, C. (2007). Chapter 10. The Consequences of Empire. Blowback: the costs and consequences of American empire (Second Edition ed., p. 229). New York: Metropolitan Books.

[23] Marcuse, H. (1974). Marxism and Feminism. Women’s Studies, 2, 282. You can read his lecture online here.

[24] Ibid.

Leave a comment