Climate Industrial Complex

Posted January 3, 2008

Categories: Articles

Few people still dismiss global warming. Some climate deniers still mouth off in Congress, like James Inhofe of Oklahoma who called global warming the “greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people.” Novelist Michael Crichton, with his 2004 novel State of Fear and subsequent press briefings, has seemingly gotten mixed up about where non-fiction ends and fiction begins. Maverick progressive Alexander Cockburn lobs grenades from the sidelines on the assumption that anything that becomes conventional wisdom must be wrong. Industry-funded organizations like the Competitive Enterprise Institute still churn out agitprop (though Exxon, for one, severed ties with CEI).

The rest of us, meanwhile, have moved on.

But moved on to where? It’s not like the energy crisis of the 1970s when our leaders urged us to turn down the thermostat a few degrees and don a sweater or two. The changes required to turn the clock back on climate change are enormous. We have to fundamentally transform the way the world does business, as FPIF contributor Tom Athanasiou has argued in Toward a Defensible Climate Realism, the first piece in our new climate briefing.

Americans have a can-do attitude, even in the face of long odds. Environmentalist Bill McKibben, who has done as much as anyone to focus attention on the crisis, describes the required response to climate change as a “Hail Mary pass” in a recent TomDispatch piece. To better the chances that such a pass is caught, some have called for a new Manhattan Project. Others have urged a new Marshall Plan.

But both the Manhattan Project and Marshall Plan analogies miss the mark. Yes, of course, we need a massive, coordinated effort from the scientific community. Yes, of course, we need a massive, coordinated transfer of resources, particularly to poorer, energy-hungry countries.

Throwing scientists and money at this problem, however, is not enough. The better analogy is the military industrial complex. In response to the Red Scare of the Soviet Union, the United States fundamentally reoriented the United States toward a permanent war economy – to the detriment of America and the world. Now, to deal with the Green Scare, the United States must similarly change the production process and the government’s relationship to it. We need to create a permanent climate change economy. And that requires a climate industrial complex.

After all, the threat of climate change is too important to leave to the private sector to figure out how to make a profit from catastrophe. As FPIF contributor Hope Shand points out in Corporations Grab Climate Genes, agribusiness is already using the threat of global warming to corner the market on new, genetically modified “climate-ready” crops.

Rather, the government must get involved – with regulations, subsidies, targeted investments, R & D funds – in short, everything that made military contractors like Boeing and Lockheed Martin what they are today. FPIF’s peace and security editor Miriam Pemberton spells out what this new economy should look like in A Climate Change Industrial Policy. Among other things, she calls for a climate change czar in the White House who “would link public investment to job retraining to technical assistance to new sources of finance for enterprise development, and pull together the various state initiatives into a coherent framework.” In short, such a czar would oversee the disabling of the old complex and the creation of the new.

With a recession looming, politicians need something they can sell. And this is where “green jobs” enter the picture. These are, as FPIF contributors Jason Walsh and Sarah White point out in Global Green Jobs, “family-supporting, middle-skill jobs, most of them in the primary sectors of a clean energy economy – efficiency, renewables, and alternative transportation and fuels. There are many ways to count them, none perfect. One respected source, using a broad set of parameters, estimates that the renewable and efficiency sectors may account for as many as one in four jobs by 2030.”

To avert disaster, of course, we can’t leave it to professional recyclers, efficiency experts, and electric car manufacturers. In the new climate industrial complex, saving the world must become everyone’s job.

The Future of Mexican Oil

Our neighbor to the south, Mexico, is not creating a climate industrial complex. As FPIF columnist Laura Carlsen argues, the neoliberal government of Felipe Calderon is heading in the opposite direction by pushing the privatization of the country’s oil industry. As part of this move, the government is moving full speed ahead to exploit energy resources, often at the expense of the environment.

“The administration’s energy reform initiative defines sustainability as the ability to replace oil extracted with new reserves,” she writes in Mexico’s Battle over Oil. “The idea that sustainability means reaching a replacement rate for a non-renewable resource by extracting more of the non-renewable resource flies in the face of concepts of sustainable development. What is “sustained” through this policy is fossil fuel dependency. This whole-hog approach to exploitation of Mexico’s oil and gas reserves has caused concern among environmentalists. Yet the question of sustainable development and the environment has been practically absent in the political debate so far.”

The Old Complex

Obviously it’s hard to think about a new industrial complex when the old one is still churning along healthier than ever. Congress is now debating the supplemental funding for the Iraq – another $160 billion to deconstruct rather than reconstruct. As FPIF contributor Raed Jarrar and FPIF’s outreach director Erik Leaver point out in Getting Iraq to Pay More Is Not the Answer, “Even though the United States has international legal obligations for reconstruction as an occupying power, it has spent less than $30 billion on reconstruction projects over the last five years. To date, there is little to show for the money spent by the United States for reconstruction. Iraq’s infrastructure is a disaster.”

This lack of reconstruction keeps the war going, as FPIF contributor Camillo Bica argues in response to research suggesting that anti-war protests have emboldened insurgents in Iraq. “The researchers would have been better served had they taken into account the emboldening effect of Abu Ghraib, of over a million Iraqi civilians killed and five million displaced, of the destruction of the infrastructure of their country, the unavailability of water and electric, etc,” he writes in Does Protest Embolden the Iraqi Insurgency. “Perhaps had they done so, they would have found that the ‘insurgents’ are emboldened, not as a result of watching CNN, but rather because they are the victims of aggression and of occupation, and will continue to struggle until their nation is liberated from foreign domination.”

Wouldn’t it be nice if the United States were institutionally committed to post-conflict reconstruction? In fact, the Bush administration did create the Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization (S/CRS) in 2004. It hasn’t gotten nearly the funding it needs, however. And it’s come in for a fair share of criticism, with Naomi Klein arguing in The Nation that it is nothing less than “sophisticated colonialism.”

Quite the contrary, argue FPIF contributors Trevor Keck and Ann Vaughan in Securing the Peace: “planning for crises is critically necessary to save lives and resources. The failure in the U.S. government’s response to Hurricane Katrina is a case in point. The Defense Department invests millions in planning for future military operations. Due to both scant resources and a reaction-prone culture at the State Department, the agency responsible for U.S. diplomatic efforts hasn’t ever aggressively planned for peace. S/CRS is a first attempt to change this dynamic.”

Beijing Olympics

Earthquakes, protests in Tibet, Darfur activists: what more can China expect in the lead-up to the Summer Olympics in Beijing this August? The country appears to be assailed from all sides.

Those calling for a boycott of the Olympics – usually expressed in a desire for international leaders to stay away from the opening ceremonies rather than a no-show by the athletes themselves – are hoping to change Chinese policies both external and internal. FPIF contributor Eric Reeves argues in On Boycotting the Beijing Olympics that “we cannot have sporting ‘business as usual’ while China continues to be instrumental in supporting the brutal Khartoum regime in its obstruction of a UN-authorized peace support operation, designed to protect millions of vulnerable Darfuri civilians and the thousands of humanitarian workers upon whom they increasingly depend for survival.”

James Nolt disagrees. “The actual effect of their protests is not what they expect,” the FPIF contributor writes in Counterproductive Olympic Protests. “They merely increase international animosity and stimulate the patriotic sentiments of most Chinese people. However, all these protests and counter-protests are, I believe, merely a tempest in a teapot, signifying little in the end. Their negative impact on international sentiments will be overwhelmed by the positive and cooperative spirit generated by the Olympic Games.”

In their responses to each other in Strategic Dialogue on the Beijing Olympics, Reeves points out that the protests have already pushed Beijing to alter its position, while Nolt argues that China’s skepticism toward humanitarian intervention in Sudan is warranted.

FPIF, May 19, 2008

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