Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Climate Change and Freedom: How the Climate Crisis May Erode Civil Liberties

A few interesting things have been brought to my attention in the past few days which have started to formulate some sort of loose nexus of ideas in my mind. In this blogpost, I’m going to try to weave these threads together, and hope that I come out with a decent thesis.

Climate Wars

Tomorrow night in Toronto, Green Party Leader Elizabeth May and international journalist Gwynne Dyer, will be making a presentation called "Finding Hope: Confronting Climate Wars". Presumably, they’re going to put a positive spin on the thesis Dyer offers in his excellent book, "Climate Wars". In short, that thesis is, climate change is real, has been understated by the international community, and is being taken into consideration by military planners. Some have described his book as "chilling". Certainly it should be a wake-up call to the climate-change deniers out there; and not just because of the science behind climate change, but also because of the seriousness which the coming climate crisis is being treated by military planners.

My wife gave me this book for Christmas in 2008, and I’ve read it twice since then. I’m very much a believer in Mr. Dyer’s thesis, and I am troubled by the social, political and military aspects which will occur as a result of the climate crisis. I saw Mr. Dyer speak about his book when he was here in Sudbury last year. I’m sure that those attending tomorrow’s presentation in Toronto are in for a treat, and I’m a little jealous. There certainly is hope amongst the doom and gloom, and we often forget about things such as hope when we turn our attention to the subjects which are so very overwhelming in scope.

However, let us also keep in mind that while "hope" is a great thing, it can also derail us from taking serious action. When we hope, we often remove ourselves from taking responsibility for action. For example, if we hope that a solution can be found to the coming energy crisis, it may mean that we personally put off doing all of the things that we really need to start doing to prepare for the crisis. I think most people understand this, but sometimes I’m not so sure. Hope can certainly inspire us to action, to "being the change that we want in the world" or something like that. But Hope is a double-edged sword, so we must be careful how we handle it.

Back to "Climate Wars", though, and why the climate change denier types should take a closer look at Dyer’s research. Even if you don’t believe in global warming, you should take seriously what the military planner-types are war-gaming with regards to the near future. In the U.S. especially, there has been a lot of concern about National Security, which many have largely come to think of as under threat by terrorists. A lot has happened in the past decade in the United States in the name of "National Security", including a significant erosion of personal rights and liberties. Today’s government has much more power over individuals than it did before September 11th and the Patriot Act. Many Americans are already concerned about these outcomes, and these concerns are manifesting themselves in different ways.

Dyer contends that national militaries are preparing for the political and military impacts of climate change: since people are going to be displaced due to drought, disease, rising sea levels, etc., and struggles for increasingly scarce resources are going to occur with more frequency, in the name of National Security, it makes sense to prepare for potential negative outcomes. Dyer offers a number of examples, but the one which I remember best (likely because it is closest to home) is what might happen on the U.S.-Mexico border.

Climate change will likely severely impact Central America and Mexico’s ability to produce enough food to feed itself. Given that the rest of the world will also likely not be in a position to export food surpluses which no longer exist, this will lead to a significant number of hungry people who might feel that they don’t have much to lose by migrating to a place which they perceive to be a better location for them. Certainly, throughout history, peoples have done just that.

While the U.S. southwest will itself be suffering from the ill effects of climate change the depletion of the Oglalla aquifer, relatively speaking, it might still seem a paradise to those from Central America who can not feed themselves. How will the U.S. protect itself from those seeking a better existence through illegal entry? Maybe some sort of wall should be built to keep other out. Maybe the wall should be armed with remotely operated weaponry, to deter those who might seek to challenge it. And don’t you think that landowners in Texas and Arizona are going to demand that their federal government take actions to ensure their security? To do so effectively, though, what might those who live in Texas and Arizona have to give up? Their right to assembly? Some of their property, wealth?

Certainly, this part of the world is already experiencing stresses which will be further exacerbated by a changing climate (witness the movement to "re-unify" the southwest with Mexico). Even if you don’t believe in climate change, you should recognize that the military is planning for a future which is going to be impacted by a changing climate.

Why would the military do that if the threat wasn’t real?

Climate Change: Not For Real?

Well, here’s why some people think that the military would be making all of its plans even though it knows that climate change is not real. I have become increasingly disturbed by the followers of Alex Jones and others who hypothesize that national governments, in the pockets of the military-industrial-banking complex, are using climate change as an excuse to stifle civil liberties, with the eventual goal of creating a corporatist world government run by the IMF and World Bank. Sometimes the ultimate goal of population reduction is brought into this belief.

I’m disturbed by this line of thinking mostly because I believe that there is a lot of merit to it, however I do not agree with that part of the hypothesis which suggests that climate change is not happening, and that scientists throughout the world are fudging the data and are part of an international conspiracy to make the rest of us live in fear. I guess I’m disturbed by its merit, because I, like many, don’t like to think about things like this.

That part of about the corporatist global government which is the ultimate goal, however, really does have a lot of merit, and I don’t think that there’s any question that we’re heading in that direction. This may be troubling for many Americans who have come to view their constitutional rights as paramount to all other rights, and that they should not be subservient or beholden to a government which refuses to recognize the U.S. Constitution as paramount. My concern here is that those people who might otherwise be allies in the fight against global warming are being lost to us and claimed by the denial industry.

The fact is that the green movement has a lot in common with the anti-corporatist, libertarian agenda which many in the U.S. and Canada subscribe to. Not all libertarians are right-wingers, and not all who oppose bailing out banks are left-wingers. Indeed, there is a lot of overlap if you go looking. There can also be a lot of opposition, given that the green movement was built out of the peace movement, while many libertarians with an anti-corporatist, anti-government agenda will fight to their last breath to hold onto their guns and ammo.

For all those areas where greens and libertarians might find common ground, it appears that the idea of climate change might turn into a losing proposition, thanks in part to the machinations of our national governments. This might be difficult to understand for those in the green choir, but picture the following scenario.

The President of the United States acknowledges that climate change is real, happening, and needs to be addressed, despite what the media says. The President decides to take action, without the approval of Congress, and announce a plan to do just that. He travels to Copenhagen to announce that America will participate in the creation of a fund wherein the wealth of the developed world can be transferred to those less-developed nations so that they may invest in green technologies instead of brown. The President goes on to say that this must happen because National Security may be jeopardized if we don’t act. All around the President, other international decision makers are talking about how all of this will hopefully lead to a global government.

Video clips go viral on the internet, showing youthful protestors interrupting speeches given by respected climate change deniers, some of whom are in governments. Protestors mindlessly shout down any and all who want to suggest that climate change isn’t happening. The protestors are compared to Hitler Youth and Brownshirts for their slavish actions. Green is seen as the new Black, Red & White; green is the heel of the latest jackboot.

The President is denounced for selling out the American people and the Constitution for his insistence on taking action to address the imaginative issue of climate change. Worse, the fears of many focus on the President’s use of Executive privelege over Congressional law (remember that the President of the U.S. can not make law – that’s Congress’ job. The President can only sign or veto a bill; if Congress doesn’t present the President with a bill to make a law, such as the one needed to address climate change, what legal right does the President have to insist that the government will do so anyway?). With this precedent, what else might the President do to enforce his view over Congress? Where does it end? Remember that the President is also the Commander-in-Chief of the military; the military does not answer to Congress, it answers to the President.

These are not small issues. While it seems that the denial industry has been largely funded by the corporations who appear to have the most to lose if we start to take action to address climate change (the very military-industrial-banking complex referenced above), there is a subset of individuals out there in the U.S. and Canada (and presumably elsewhere) who see climate change as the latest tool to be used by government to erode civil liberties. What bothers me is that I find myself sharing some of their concerns, because one doesn’t have to disbelieve in climate change to see how it might be used by decision-makers to advance a particular agenda. And one can see how that agenda might easily benefit the corporate elites.

Cap and Trade

Certainly a North American or an international emissions trading program is one which will benefit the banking industry and the corporate elite, and disadvantage those who are the least well-off amongst us. We have seen the European Emissions Trading scheme increase the wealth of corporations engaged in emissions trading, while little or no success has actually been achieved on reducing greenhouse gases. While it might be true that a successfully implement cap and trade scheme would eventually lead to a reduction in emissions, will it take us to where we need to be? How long will it take to get us there? And, who will disproportionately benefit in the process?

I’m certainly not optimistic about the timeframes involved in establishing a meaningful cap and trade scheme (by meaningful, I here mean one which actually reduces emissions). Cap and trade would be a great way of achieving intensity targets, and giving pats on the back to the corporations and politicians who are involved. Cap and trade will certainly enrich those who generate money from nothing. There is a lot to fear about cap and trade just from that perspective alone, neverminding the ghg reduction angle (or lack thereof).

Why, then, is this costly, incredibly bureaucratic method of potentially reducing greenhouse gas emissions the preferred method of governments? The answer, of course, is that because people will make money off of it. And by "people" I don’t mean you or me, as we stand to become further impoverished by a scenario which adds a premium to everything we purchase without the corresponding offsets on other taxes. In short, if I’m making the same income and am now expected to pay more for just about everything that I need, why the hell would I ever want to buy into that? And that’s why I don’t.

Now, if it were the only real option available, maybe I would accept this kind of program. But it’s not the only option available. It’s not even the easiest option available to implement. We in the Green Party know that there’s a better option: reducing personal income taxes while putting a premium on products and services which use carbon. This approach, misleadingly labelled a "Carbon Tax" (I say "misleadingly" because calling it a new tax is only half the story; the other side of the new tax is reducing the old tax), is a lot simpler to implement, and if handled correctly (through the provision of income offsets for those least well off amongst us), will end up impacting us much less, and contribute to health of our economy by providing us who are keen on conservation with more income.

A cap and trade scenario won’t do that at all. Instead, it will suck up our income and distribute it to the bankers and financiers who are running the scheme. Potentially, the governments involved will see a little of the dividend, but likely only after the administrators have taken their healthy cut. Look, I’m all for new revenue sources for governments, but I’m also for deciding how best to spend my own earnings.

Anyway, you can see that if you were an Alex Jones Libertarian how you might be very concerned about an international emissions trading scheme. The unfortunate part of it all is that if you were an Alex Jones Libertarian, you won’t be out there advocating for a carbon tax instead of cap and trade, because you’re likely not one to believe that climate change is happening in the first place. And that really makes me angry, because all things being equal, the Alex Jones Libertarians would be natural allies for moving forward a sensible carbon pricing scheme.

To Sum Up

I’m sure I’ll revisit some of what I’ve written here in a more specific format. Suffice it to say, though, that we can expect to hear a lot more about National Security in the coming years, and a lot of it is likely to have to do with climate change. We need to be very careful where these sorts of discussions end up going, and we should be very suspect at joining with those who want to take action on climate change through means which lead to the erosion of human rights and liberties. Yes, the future may be a very bleak one when it comes to human strife and suffering, and if the world for which the military planners are war-gaming for comes into being, we all stand to lose a lot. But let’s not also throw away our human rights in the name of national security.

Let us all also be vigilant with regards to those who would use the climate crisis to further their own agendas, be they governments or the military-industrial-banking complex. The threats to our civil liberties are very real, both in Canada and the United States. We simply can not allow the struggle against climate change to imperil democracy. If you don’t believe that climate change and democracy are inexorably linked, it’s time that you give it a second thought.


D. Scott Barclay said...

Well, the U.S. is already run by corporations. They own the Senate and the House of Representatives, lock-stock-and-barrel. This is due to the wide-open lobbying practices that pour billions into Senators’ and Congressmen’s campaigns so that in order to be re-elected they need to vote as they’re told by their benefactors. It been proven time and time again that with enough money a virtual unknown can ‘buy’ a Senate seat. Its all down hiring the most sophisticated and creative marketing companies, flooding all the media with advertising, measuring impacts on ‘control’ groups, researching your opponents and constructing smear campaigns, etc.

Interesting scenario, but the President can’t do anything unilaterally unless he can link it to an ongoing war. And the congress has to give permission to initiate a war. However, once that happens though, he can link almost anything for ‘National Security’ as part of that war. Also, I believe the President can draft a bill to be introduced, but it must be approved by both houses.

Our civil liberties have already been removed. In Canada, U.S., France, Italy, big money has taken over. Sarkozy has thrown people in jail for simply repeating his own words. He has turned the venerated ‘Republique’ into a dictatorship. President Obama is powerless against the Senate and the House. His Health-Care bill is a watered-down shambles of its original intent. He is powerless against the pro-Israel lobby in the U.S. The Israeli PM drove home this point by announcing new settlements on the very day the U.S. V.P arrived – a slap in the face to humiliate the Presidency.

Will the Corporate-run West / Industrial-Military Complex use climate-change to further their agenda? If it suits them, of course. Will the people revolt? They are already. But the displaced working class in American does not link the destruction of the U.S. economy to the real cause: the Corporate take-over and selling-out of their country, but to a mythical monster they call ‘socialism’ that lives in Washington. And to a black president whom they hate for his colour, but can’t call ‘nigger’, so they call him a ‘communist’, ‘dictator’, ‘socialist’. The oligarchy which runs the West knows how to divert rage away from itself towards the very people trying to remedy the economic/environmental disaster.

Anonymous said...

Will a world based on overconsumption allow to turn everything upside down?