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WATCH: The Ethics of Voluntary Carbon Offsets – Professor Clive Spash

WATCH: The Ethics of Voluntary Carbon Offsets – Professor Clive Spash

November 10, 2019

“WATCH: The Ethics of Voluntary Carbon Offsets – Professor Clive Spash”

 

“Sales of so-called carbon offsets are soaring: Myclimate, a Swiss nonprofit whose clients include Deutsche Lufthansa AG, reported a five-fold uptake in its credits in a year. At Ryanair Holdings Plc, Europe’s largest discount carrier, the number of customers making voluntary offset payments has almost doubled in 18 months.”

 

— Bloomberg, August 10, 2019

 

“Gold Standard [WWF] has reported a fourfold increase in income from individuals and small businesses paying for carbon offsets through its platform….‘We are seeing the Greta effect, the impact of Extinction Rebellion, the impact of the words of David Attenborough, the school strikes, all of these coming together.'”

 

— The Guardian, November 8, 2019

The following clip is an excerpt from the lecture The Brave New World of Carbon Trading by Professor and ecological economist Clive Spash, who discusses the limitations of emissions trading schemes. Video published March 11, 2010.

“Corporate power is shown to be a major force affecting emissions market operation and design. The potential for manipulation to achieve financial gain, while showing little regard for environmental or social consequences, is evident as markets have extended internationally and via trading offsets. At the individual level, there is the potential for emissions trading to have undesirable ethical and psychological impacts and to crowd out voluntary actions. I conclude that the focus on such markets is creating a distraction from the need for changing human behaviour, institutions and infrastructure.”

In 2009 Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) wrote to New Political Economy demanding that the paper entitled ‘The Brave New World of Carbon Trading’ not be published. [Nov 7, 2009: Censorship of Critique of Emissions Trading and Carbon-Offsets Schemes]

Website of Clive L. Spash, WU Vienna University of Economics and Business, Vienna, Austria: https://www.clivespash.org/

 

Climate and War: Bill McKibben’s Deadly Miscalculation

Climate and War: Bill McKibben’s Deadly Miscalculation

November 6, 2019

By Luke Orsborne

 

 

Source: British Psychological Society

In late June 2019, author and founder of 350.org Bill McKibben produced an article for the New York Review of Books whose headline echoed a growing awareness of the significant role of US militarism in our current ecological crisis. The hook, unfortunately, appeared to be little more than a ruse to entice those who harbor legitimate concerns about the military’s role in the climate crisis in order to then minimize those concerns. What followed was a presentation of selective information, including a superficial critique of US military energy efficiency, that in the end only obfuscates the true cost and context of US militarism as it applies to the health of people and the planet. The result was that rather than highlighting the need for deep structural change which involves putting an end to aggressive US foreign policy, McKibben came across as a cautious cheerleader for the continued centrality of US militarism in global affairs as we enter into an increasingly chaotic, climate destabilized world. This dangerous stance only bolsters the propaganda of so-called “humanitarian interventionism” and a world order built upon violent, neoliberal imperialism.

June 12, 2019: “Since the beginning of the post-9/11 wars, the U.S. military has emitted 1.2 BILLION metric tons of greenhouse gases. The Pentagon is the world’s single largest consumer of oil and a top contributor to climate change.” [Source]

McKibben begins his article by admitting that the US Department of Defense is a major consumer of fossil fuels, but then makes the deceptive claim that the “enormous military machine produces about 59 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually.” Using selective information from a paper entitled Pentagon Fuel Use, Climate Change, and the Costs of War by Professor Neta Crawford of Boston University, a paper which he references heavily for his piece, McKibben goes on to dishonestly downplay the role of the US military in the climate crisis. According to McKibben, this average of 59 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions (which according to Crawford’s paper, the figure between 2001-2017 is actually closer to 70 million) “is not a particularly large share of the world’s, or even our nation’s, energy consumption.” McKibben adds, “Crawford’s careful analysis shows that the Department of Defense consumes roughly a hundred million barrels of oil a year. The world runs through about a hundred million barrels of oil a day. Even though it’s the world’s largest institutional user of energy, the US military accounts, by Crawford’s figures, for barely 1 percent of America’s greenhouse gas emissions.”

In fact, this was not at all the conclusion that Crawford drew from her research. While McKibben mischaracterizes Crawford’s paper as “comprehensive,” Crawford is, by contrast, careful to note that there are in fact several unknowns and unexplored areas when it comes to calculating the fuel use of the military, all of which suggest that the total usage is likely significantly higher than McKibben concludes. She spells out the various sources of military emissions clearly, both those considered and those left unknown, in list form toward the beginning of her paper:

“1. Overall military emissions for installations and non-war operations.

2. War-related emissions by the US military in overseas contingency operations.

3. Emissions caused by US military industry—for instance, for production of weapons and ammunition.

4. Emissions caused by the direct targeting of petroleum, namely the deliberate burning of oil wells and refineries by all parties.

5. Sources of emissions by other belligerents.

6. Energy consumed by reconstruction of damaged and destroyed infrastructure.

7. Emissions from other sources, such as fire suppression and extinguishing chemicals, including Halon, a greenhouse gas, and from explosions and fires due to the destruction of non-petroleum targets in warzones.”

Crawford then clarifies by stating that her focus is “on the first two sources of military GHG emissions—overall military and war-related emissions” and that she will “briefly discuss military industrial emissions.” According to Department of Energy data used in Crawford’s analysis, the total greenhouse gas emissions from the DOD between 2001-2017 was approximately 1.212 billion metric tons. But in the very next section, which McKibben fails to mention, Crawford estimates what the emissions burden of the industrial production of military hardware and munitions might entail. Her calculations are perhaps somewhat rudimentary, but they nonetheless suggest a much greater potential for military produced GHGs than McKibben is willing to admit. If Crawford’s estimates are correct, the combined total of industrial production related emissions and commonly measured military operating emissions would triple the amount of greenhouse gases that are emitted in sustaining our current military infrastructure. Crawford states:

“The estimate above focuses on DOD emissions. Yet, a complete accounting of the total emissions related to war and preparation for it, would include the GHG emissions of the military industry. The military industry directly employs about 14.7 percent of all people in the US manufacturing sector.  Assuming that the relative size of direct employment in the domestic US military industry is an indicator for the portion of the military industry in the US industrial economy, the share of US greenhouse gas emissions from the US based military industry is estimated to be about 15 percent of total US industrial greenhouse gas emissions. If half of those military related emissions are attributable to the post-9/11 wars, then US war manufacturing has emitted about 2,600 million megatons of CO2 equivalent greenhouse gas from 2001 to 2017, averaging 153 million metric tons of CO2e each year.”

Furthermore, Crawford goes into more detail in the Appendix as to why the estimates of CO2e impacts are likely understated. Firstly, she notes that the military documents the impact of methane released from fuel consumption as 25 times as potent in its warming potential as compared to CO2, but the IPCC puts this number at 35. In fact, on shorter time scales, scientists have shown that methane is 85 times or more as powerful a greenhouse gas as CO2.

Secondly, she draws attention to the fact that the additives in jet fuel are not accounted for when tabulating the effects of GHG emissions, suggesting significant unknowns. She states that “While the Department of Energy figures and the calculations here include nitrous oxide and methane, it is possible that the additional effects of high altitude water vapor and additives for jet fuel combustion, which are not included in these calculations, may be significant.”

The third point she brings to bear is the lack of inclusion of all the sources of fuel used by the military in their bookkeeping. One of these sources is known as bunker fuel which, as Crawford writes, is excluded from emission accounts as part of the Kyoto Protocol.

Barry Sanders, author of The Green Zone, The Environmental Costs of Militarism, has also written about bunker fuel. Along with this “off the record, ghost stuff,” as he refers to it, Sanders has enumerated various other ways in which the military has been able to underplay its fossil fuel usage. Among these are the unaccounted for fuel used by interdependent contractors in increasingly privatized warzones, and the no cost fuel provided at times by partner nations like Kuwait.

According to the high end of Sanders’ estimates, which do not include the emissions incurred from weapons manufacture, the total percentage of military emissions from the direct burning of fossil fuels may be more like 5 percent of total US emissions. This figure also does not take into consideration other factors touched upon by Crawford, mentioned above, like emissions from ongoing oil fires, which lasted in some cases for months, and the effect of cement production and equipment operation during post war reconstruction, a significant contributor to atmospheric greenhouse gases. Crawford also recognizes that the militaries of all parties drawn into US-led wars have an unaccounted for carbon footprint when honestly examining the total emissions costs of the American war machine.

These additional factors make calculating the true cost of war next to impossible but, in pure greenhouse gas emissions terms, the numbers are clearly significantly higher than what McKibben has suggested. The counter to this conclusion is that even if the military GHG emissions were in the neighborhood of 5 percent of total US emissions (and it’s possibly higher than this), this is still a much smaller number than the rest of the US economy, which is essentially the argument that McKibben has already made. While 5 percent is not an insignificant figure, this line of argument fails to understand the systemic nature of our problem by making the common mistake of focusing narrowly on GHG emissions. It is an entirely reductive and simplistic lens that dangerously distorts, rather than clarifies humanity’s global, interconnected crisis.

Mosaic Solar. Further reading: From Stable to Star – The Making of North American “Climate Heroes”

After completely misrepresenting the calculations found in Crawford’s paper and restricting debate to the evaluation of deflated GHG emissions figures, McKibben takes a further misstep by having us believe that rather than being a hindrance to resolving the climate crisis, the military can actually be a vital asset. While admitting that the military absorbs a massive amount of money each year from American taxpayers, even going so far as to repeat the widely circulated statistic that the US spends as much as the next seven countries combined on its massive defense budget, McKibben seems to believe in some ways this could in fact be a good thing. He suggests that the technologies developed by the military’s R&D could be utilized in the civilian sector, saying that “The military-industrial complex may not be the single best place to conduct R&D, but given current political realities, it is likely to be one of the few places where it’s actually possible.”

In fact, any genuine grassroots movement that is interested in tackling issues as large as the collapse of human civilization and the destruction of global biotic communities would be less interested in acquiescing to “current political realities” which include a $1.25 trillion war budget, and more interested in engendering the kind of struggle needed to define those realities along the lines of an actually livable, equitable future.

The text reads “The Navajo Nation encompasses more than 27,000 square miles across three states – New Mexico, Utah + Arizona – and is the largest home for indigenous people in the U.S.. From 1944 to 1986, hundreds of uranium and milling operations extracted an estimated 400 million tons of uranium ore from Diné (Navajo) lands.  [1][Source: jetsonorama: stories from ground zero, August 31, 2019]

Military R&D is not geared toward saving the planet from human destruction. Any overlaps with so-called green technological development is secondary to its primary, narrow framework of creating efficient systems of killing to protect a national agenda set by the interests of the wealthy elite. This framework, more often than not, runs contrary to environmental protection. From the radioactive contamination of people and land caused by the use of depleted uranium, to the pollution of drinking water, to the creation of hundreds of superfund sites across the US, America’s military is well understood to be not just a massive source of greenhouse gases, but one of the largest polluters on the planet.

Furthermore, military R&D is often more about lining the pockets of weapons manufacturers than simply developing an effective end product. Waste and cost overruns are a regular feature in the development of military hardware. The F-35 fighter jet, for example, is expected to cost over a trillion dollars over the course of its sixty year lifespan. In a movement that is looking to maximize efficiency of resource usage, it would clearly make more sense to directly fund efforts to that end, rather than relying on the tangential work of an institution engaging in the most unsustainable activities ever conceived: spending trillions of dollars directly destroying land and infrastructure which is then rebuilt.

What McKibben further fails to acknowledge in his article is that the US military has fostered an atmosphere for intensified global destabilization, international distrust, and environmental degradation at a time when the need for global cooperation and environmental stewardship has never been more clear. Accepting the prioritization of US military spending over the dedication of national resources toward environmental research, habitat restoration, and climate mitigation, as McKibben does, is worse than defeatism. It is ultimately a collusion with the most murderous institution in living memory at the expense of genuine social progress or even human survival. While mainstream environmental groups often shun or disavow direct action that involves property destruction or widespread social disruption used as a tactic to secure the survival of the species, a tactic which is increasingly viewed through the lens of a militarized state as a form of terrorism, these nonprofits often have no qualms about tacitly, or even explicitly, supporting an institution that uses organized mass violence in order to further the very political ends which have brought humanity to the brink of extinction.

November, 2016, Standing Rock: The U.S. Army attempts to evict Oceti Sakowin encampments from treaty lands. Photo by Rob Wilson Photography [Source]

What this translates to is perhaps the most critical point presented in this article, which is that as corporate controlled governments and the officials within them are unable to come to meaningful agreements that could at least slow the process of ecological collapse, Bill McKibben is giving a pass to an institution whose job directly involves sowing violent discord around the world. Military adventurism is part and parcel to a world that is enmeshed in competition for resources, power, and strategic high ground rather than cooperation. To not point this out, and to instead highlight the supposedly positive role that the military will play, represents the betrayal of any vision of a decent future for life on earth under the cover of “current political realities”, which in fact is the reality of collective annihilation. The millions of victims of countless forms of Western imperial aggression stand as a testament to that fact, and the distortions and omissions of Bill McKibben cannot be tolerated by people who stand for justice and a livable future.

And while McKibben praised the military for “doing a not-too-shabby job of driving down its emissions—they’ve dropped 50 percent or so since 1991,” he neglected to mention in his article that it was this hyper competitive culture of US militarism that helped turn up the pressure on negotiators for the 1997 Kyoto Protocol in order to exempt militaries around the world from greenhouse gas accounting. The author of the paper Demilitarization for Deep Decarbonization, Tamara Lorincz, described the successful efforts of government officials, military brass, and oil industry insiders working together to keep military carbon pollution off the ledgers. She quotes lead Kyoto negotiator Stuart Eizenstat, then Under Secretary for Economic, Business, and Agricultural Affairs at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing:

“We took special pains, working with the Defense Department and with our uniformed military, both before and in Kyoto, to fully protect the unique position of the United States as the world’s only super power with global military responsibilities. We achieved everything they outlined as necessary to protect military operations and our national security. At Kyoto, the parties, for example, took a decision to exempt key overseas military activities from any emissions targets, including exemptions for bunker fuels used in international aviation and maritime transport and from emissions resulting from multilateral operations.”

Rather than standing up for environmental protection, the military, as one would expect, sought to preserve not simply US supremacy, but a global order in which militarism in general continues to play a central role in the affairs of humanity. Fewer regulations are better for weapons manufacturers around the globe, and the US is also the leading weapons exporter on the planet.

In her paper, Lorincz goes on to quote President Clinton appointee, Secretary of Defense William Cohen who said, “We must not sacrifice our national security… to achieve reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.”  In 2015, the non-binding Paris Climate Accords put an end to the accounting exemption set forth in Kyoto, but without an enforcement mechanism to ensure compliance, it did not explicitly mandate military reductions, leaving it up to individual nations to address those concerns as they saw fit. The priorities of the nation were further clarified when in 2019, in a paper about the grave danger posed by climate change, published by the US Army War College, the military’s role as protector of a pathological order again came on display. The paper stated, “The U.S. military must immediately begin expanding its capability to operate in the Arctic to defend economic interests and to partner with allies across the region…This rapid climate change will continue to result in increased shipping transiting the Arctic, population shifts to the region and increased competition to extract the vast hydrocarbon resources more readily available as the ice sheets contract. These changes will drive an expansion of security efforts from nations across the region as they vie to claim and protect the economic resources of the region.” There is no call in these words to change the kind of thinking that would have nations fighting over the last barrels of oil in a climate destabilized world. There is no reason to believe that a nation that learned nothing positive from the genocide it was founded upon will relinquish its death grip on power, even if it brings the entire planet into ecological chaos.

One of the interesting developments under Trump, the belligerent corporatist who walked away from an ineffectual Paris Climate Accord on the heels of pipeline expansionist and drone warrior Barack Obama, is the fact the military’s attention to climate change is not confined to just one paper. Members of the military community have continued to point out the looming danger of climate change. Even into the strange days of Trump, climate has been an ongoing concern from more vocal members of the Pentagon, and has led to figures like Bill McKibben pointing to their role as advocates for addressing the climate. “…the Pentagon, when it speaks frankly,” McKibben opined, “has the potential to reach Americans who won’t listen to scientists.” Perhaps it is this understanding of the pro-military psyche of the highly propagandized American populace that led him several years earlier to pen an article for The New Republic entitled “A World at War” in which he proclaims “We’re under attack from climate change—and our only hope is to mobilize like we did in WWII.”

In his opening commentary, he attempts to capture our militarist imagination with images of a supposed war that greenhouse gases are waging against us and the planet as a whole. “Enemy forces have seized huge swaths of territory; with each passing week, another 22,000 square miles of Arctic ice disappears,” he tells us. Instead of listening to scientific and military experts, “we chose to strengthen the enemy with our endless combustion; a billion explosions of a billion pistons inside a billion cylinders have fueled a global threat as lethal as the mushroom-shaped nuclear explosions we long feared.” When McKibben assures us that this comparison is not some figure of speech, he reveals another facet of his dangerous thinking when it comes to climate change and war. “But this is no metaphor. By most of the ways we measure wars, climate change is the real deal: Carbon and methane are seizing physical territory, sowing havoc and panic, racking up casualties, and even destabilizing governments. (Over the past few years, record-setting droughts have helped undermine the brutal strongman of Syria and fuel the rise of Boko Haram in Nigeria.)”

McKibben’s primary intent appears to be one of mobilizing the American people to rise to the challenge of facing climate change, as if we are preparing for World War II. But by framing greenhouse gases, or the combustion of fossil fuels, as a wartime enemy, he commits several grave mistakes. The primary mistake is the reality that wars are not waged by greenhouse gases or machines, but by the people who produce and control the profit and power driven systems that enable their proliferation. While McKibben perceives that the image of war is useful in that it provides an opportunity to appeal to America’s wartime nostalgia and perhaps mobilize those “Americans who won’t listen to scientists,” it falls short of the more accurate perspective that it is the belief in the actual economic system and technologically driven framework which organizes the institutions of power into a war on humanity and the planet.

McKibben can’t bring himself to call capitalism, militarism, and technologically centred consumerism as enemies of the people to be resisted. To excuse him for his particular framing as a kind of practical rhetorical decision is to overlook the dangerous obfuscations that arise and tendencies which are amplified as a result of such a framework. While McKibben nurtures our dangerously sanitized vision of patriotic history, he simultaneously lets off the hook and further empowers some of the most significant perpetrators of the crisis by maintaining our faith in a mythic US military practicality. As previously mentioned, it is not simply the significant and under reported greenhouse gas emissions of the military that is the problem. It is also the diversion of needed resources to unsustainable war making. It is the creation of a global order based in mistrust and brutal competition that fuels consumerism. It is the dangerous empowerment of militarized and paramilitary security forces at a time when the world is becoming increasingly unstable.

And when McKibben characterizes President Assad as the “brutal strongman of Syria”, rather than describing his more nuanced role as a popularly supported leader in the face of US, Israeli, and Gulf State directed aggression, he moves beyond the abstractions of WWII imagery and into direct support for American imperialist interests. His tacit support for the US war machine was further evidenced when he concluded that with the emergence of “green” tech, “The day will come when blocking the strait of Hormuz or blowing up a petrol station will be an empty threat – and that will be a good day indeed.” This of course is a shot at the enemy of American and Israeli elite, Iran. What such a remark avoids is any pretense of a future without US foreign meddling, whether that be in the form of toppling leaders like Iran’s former Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh at the behest of oil interests, or the US implementation of destabilizing sanctions in more recent years. While McKibben might lament the oil wars, his alignment with popularly held US prejudices is right out of the same neoconservative playbook which spawned George Bush’s axis of evil. In a world where the destabilizing climate will become one of many factors that both increase the likelihood of war and provide opportunities to devise profit-garnering narratives of so-called “humanitarian intervention,” McKibben is making it clear that his trust ultimately lies not with the people who suffer under the boot of military aggression and capitalist exploitation, but rather with a power structure that is quite literally killing us.

Kids in Hanano, East Aleppo, 24 hours after liberation from Nusra Front-led occupation, by the SAA and allies. December 2016 [Photo: Vanessa Beeley, Source]

Playing fast and loose again with the reality of the linkages between war, environmental exploitation, and climate change, McKibben declared in an opinion piece for The Guardian: “No one will ever fight a war over access to sunshine – what would a country do, set up enormous walls to shade everyone else’s panels? …A world that runs on sun and wind is a world that can relax.” Beyond the obvious fact that wars were fought long before oil became a hot commodity, perhaps the most glaring deception in McKibben’s arsenal is that war will be significantly reduced simply by the widespread adoption of “green” tech. But if you examine McKibben’s phrasing, he doesn’t say “no one will ever fight a war over access to  the components needed to manufacture green technology.” Rather, it is access to sun or wind, he says, that won’t spur bloodshed. This may be true, but he is implying for the casual reader that access to sun and wind is the same as access to raw materials and technological products that transform wind and sun into electricity. Nothing could be further from the truth, and his careful word choice is extremely deceptive. It is a bit like the kind of lie one might tell if one were operating from a war mentality, justifying the creation of false propaganda meant to rally people around a national cause that is sold as being for the greater good. “Wars can’t be fought over sunshine” makes for a clever, if duplicitous, slogan in a nation whose populace has grown less supportive of the oil wars they are funding with their tax dollars. But perhaps a bit of sleight of hand is good for the cause. The ends justify the means, as the saying goes. But do they really?

Another saying is that truth is the first casualty of war. If you are waging a war against amorphous greenhouse gases rather than acknowledging the war that has been initiated against life by technology and profit centred networks of capitalists, security forces, and politicians of all stripes, then your distorted framework sets the tone for more distortions. But as Medea Benjamin points out in her critique of McKibben’s call for a kind of wartime climate mobilization, “Some of the worst state responses to climate disruption already look like war.” As a means to demonstrate the ugliness of actual wars rather than promulgating simplistic, mythologized narratives, she refers to the Congolese forced labor which was used during WWII to extract uranium that went into the atomic bombs that would needlessly kill over one hundred thousand Japanese civilians.

McKibben assures us “…it’s important to remember that a truly global mobilization to defeat climate change wouldn’t wreck our economy or throw coal miners out of work. Quite the contrary: Gearing up to stop global warming would provide a host of social and economic benefits, just as World War II did.” As a reactive, crisis induced scramble for solutions from the same mindset that produced our problems, this kind of blind triumphalism has no time to soberly internalize both the hard limits of a growth-based economic system on a finite planet, and the deep tragedy of a world which had plunged itself into the bloodiest war in human history. Such triumphalism is ultimately incapable of seeing how the true lessons of war and the belief in a mythological progress continue to be ignored as we move into climate chaos.

This belief in a technologically driven progress which can be found in McKibben’s writing, and which often centers the discussion on an unerring belief in green jobs and economic prosperity over the reality that continued economic growth disrupts global ecologies, mirrors the kind of post WWII optimism which accompanied the so-called Great Acceleration. The Great Acceleration refers to the rapid economic growth seen during the war and the years following, which had an enormous impact on the environment. Ecologist and cellular biologist Barry Commoner concluded that, “The chief reason for the environmental crisis that has engulfed the United States in recent years is the sweeping transformation of productive technology since World War II. … Productive technologies with intense impacts on the environment have displaced less destructive ones. The environmental crisis is the inevitable result of this counter-ecological pattern of growth.” If one considers the radical changes humans have made to the planet on a geological timescale, it is easy to recognize that rather than representing a fundamental break from an older mindset, the rapid push for so called renewables is simply the machine of planetary consumption shifting gears.

In a critique of one aspect of this intensifying technological paradigm, Bill McKibben warns about the potential dangers of things like artificial intelligence in his book Falter, but when he calls the military industrial complex one of “the few places where it’s actually possible” to conduct research and development, his warnings ring hollow. In this world of great acceleration, cultures that value their modern consumerist lifestyle over unbroken forests, that don’t put up serious objections to continued growth and warfare, issue in the next wave of technological “innovation” which further speeds up the process of planetary destruction. If McKibben believes that the military will help develop the next generation battery technology to power electric cars, he should be aware those batteries emerge from a larger gestalt of full spectrum dominance, where better and faster applies first to maintaining a kind of material superiority that, if taken to the logical extension of automated warfare, threatens to launch our technosphere past the ability for humans to meaningfully react.  The crisis, then, when seen through the lens of technological innovation and war, only accelerates the destruction of life.

It is in this reality, where violence and exploitation undergirds the accelerations of modern consumer society, and green tech in fact relies on raw materials lying in often contested ground, that the US Department of the Interior finalized a list of thirty five “critical minerals” in 2018. In the Summary for the final document, the department declared that “The United States is heavily reliant on imports of certain mineral commodities that are vital to the Nation’s security and economic prosperity. This dependency of the United States on foreign sources creates a strategic vulnerability for both its economy and military to adverse foreign government action, natural disaster, and other events that can disrupt supply of these key minerals.” Among the thirty five minerals considered to be part of this “strategic vulnerability” were indium, tellurium, lithium, cobalt, and the rare earth elements, all of which are important components of corporate manufactured “green” technology.

 

What this translates to, of course, is that while wars won’t likely be fought over sunlight, the materials needed to produce “green” technology may indeed be the subject of significant future conflicts. This becomes increasingly clear when one looks more closely at the reality on the ground. For example, the very same nation which contained the highly concentrated uranium ore exploited for the atomic bomb, a nation with a legacy of Western colonial oppression and violent internal conflict, also produces over 60 percent of the world’s supply of cobalt, which is used in the cathode of lithium ion batteries. In 1961, shortly after gaining its independence from nearly 80 years of Belgian colonial rule, the newly elected Prime Minister of the Republic of Congo, Patrice Lumumba, was assassinated with direct assistance from the United States. The result would be a decades-long rule by a US-friendly autocrat followed by his overthrow and subsequent mass violence that intersected with the Rwandan genocide in which millions of people were killed.

Violence within the Congo has long relied on the control of mines for sources of income with which to pay fighters and buy weapons and supplies. One study showed the direct correlation between mineral prices, which went up with growing consumer demand, and the rise of violence. The understanding of this connection between mining operations and violent conflict led to the creation of Section 1502 of the 2010 Dodd Frank Act, which stipulated that companies refrain from purchasing minerals sourced from conflict areas. A Global Witness study, however, found that almost 80% of companies “failed to meet the minimum requirements of the U.S. conflict minerals law.”

With the majority of large mines in the Congo currently owned by China, a nation whose supposed threat to the US was emblazoned in Obama’s strategic Asia Pivot, competition for these resources will likely only go up at a time when “green” tech is being demanded with the urgency of human survival. With an estimated 30 percent of global reserves, and 95 percent of current global production, China is also the global leader in the highly polluting regime of rare earth mineral extraction and processing. To think conflict will simply decrease at the same time there is an increased dependency on unevenly distributed “critical minerals” is beyond naive.  Growing competition between the US and China in exploiting Africa’s resources are an indication of one potential conflict that lies ahead. While China increases its investment on the continent, dozens of private military contractors from countries such as the US, the UK, France, Russia, and the Ukraine are operating in a variety of African nations, protecting mines, serving as bodyguards, as well as a multitude of other security related missions.

Among those looking to capitalize on both security contracts and the increased interest in minerals is the founder of the infamous private mercenary group Blackwater, Erik Prince, who has reportedly expressed his desire to profit from cobalt mines in the Congo as well as rare earth minerals in Afghanistan.

Erik Prince: founder and former CEO of the private mercenary company Blackwater, now known as Academi

Erik Prince: founder and former CEO of the private mercenary company Blackwater, now known as Academi

 

Prince has been embroiled in numerous controversies, and his involvement in the minerals trade is highly suggestive of the troubling world order McKibben is trying to gloss over. In 2007, Blackwater contractors killed 17 Iraqi civilians during what has come to be known as the Nisour Square Massacre. Three contractors involved in the killing were sentenced to thirty years in prison, one of whom would go on to serve a life sentence for murder. In 2010, Blackwater would go on to pay a $42 million settlement to the State Department which, as reported in the New York Times, was in response to crimes that “included illegal weapons exports to Afghanistan, making unauthorized proposals to train troops in south Sudan and providing sniper training for Taiwanese police officers…”.

In 2014, Prince went on to oversee the illegal creation of retrofitted crop dusting planes that could be used as part of a private aerial attack force to be contracted in Africa. As part of a counterinsurgency effort in Sudan to protect oil fields, detailed in the Intercept, “Prince’s $300 million proposal to aid [Sudan President] Kiir’s forces explicitly called for ground and air assaults, initially to be conducted by a 341-person foreign combat unit. Prince’s forces would conduct “deliberate attacks, raids, [and] ambushes” against “rebel objectives,” to be followed by “continuous medium to high intensity rapid intervention”, which would include “search [and] destroy missions.” These proposed operations, which were never fully implemented, were done under the cover of various front companies and were hidden from other executives of Prince’s own company, Frontier Services Group (FSG), who believed the contract would merely entail surveillance services.

More recently, Prince made a pitch to the Trump administration to send 5,000 contracted mercenaries to topple the government of Venezuela.

It is against this backdrop that Erik Prince announced in 2019 the formation of an investment fund that will capitalize on the increased demand for electric car batteries. Looking to bring cobalt and other minerals to market, Prince told the Financial Times, “For all the talk of our virtual world, the innovation, you can’t build these vehicles without minerals that come from generally weird, hard-to-access places.” According to Reuters, by mid-2019, a subsidiary of Frontier Services Group, in which Erik Prince serves as executive director and deputy chairman, filed with the Congolese business registry for the purpose of “‘the exploration, exploitation and commercialisation of minerals’, forest logging, security, transport, construction and ‘all financial, investment and project financing operations, both public and private.'”

In addition to looking to further exploit labor in the Congo, Prince has also reportedly been exploring the potential to profit from the spoils of a war-torn Afghanistan. Expressing a desire to privatize the war in Afghanistan, an effort which would be funded in part by increased mining operations, the details of his plan were further revealed in a BuzzFeed article, where Prince was quoted as advancing “a strategic mineral resource extraction funded effort that breaks the negative security economic cycle.”

His interest rests on a backdrop in which Afghan president Asraf Ghani in 2017 gave the green light for US corporations to begin developing the country’s mineral supply, including rare earth elements, which are used in wind turbines and LED lights. In response to the president’s enthusiasm for incoming US investment, Donald Trump’s White House issued the following statement: “They agreed that such initiatives would help American companies develop materials critical to national security while growing Afghanistan’s economy and creating new jobs in both countries, therefore defraying some of the costs of United States assistance as Afghans become more self-reliant.” Trump was counting on America’s longest war to finally begin paying off, and Erik Prince, a significant financial contributor to the Trump campaign, whose sister Betsy Devos was subsequently appointed as Secretary of Education, may end up being one those beneficiaries.

This is the reality of resource exploitation and war, where large corporations and privatized military forces work as adjuncts to the wars of nation states, reaping multi-million dollar contracts, profiting from natural resources whose sale does little to benefit the impoverished citizens of the nations they are stolen from. The economic disparity engendered by such free market predation can only lead to greater sources of conflict. And now we are being told by the IPCC that in order to have a chance at avoiding the 1.5°C aspirational target set in the Paris Climate Accord, we need to some how scale up  “green” technology in order to reduce global carbon emissions to the tune of 45% by 2030. Under such seemingly impossible circumstances, one can’t help but wonder how many of the jobs to be created by the Green New Deal’s push for mass renewable energy development will include private military contractors guarding mineral mines and supply chains in order to keep profitable the nearly unquestioned human and environmental exploitation which powers our unsustainable lifestyles.

"The so-called ‘Greta Scenario’ describing net 0 carbon emissions by 2025... the demand outlook for copper is going to be significant. What’s more incontrovertible is security of supply... success in finding new sources of copper is declining. In fact, much of the known copper resources today represents 'the work of our grandfathers.'"

“The so-called ‘Greta Scenario’ describing net 0 carbon emissions by 2025… the demand outlook for copper is going to be significant. What’s more incontrovertible is security of supply… success in finding new sources of copper is declining. In fact, much of the known copper resources today represents ‘the work of our grandfathers.'”

 

While images of indigenous resistance to oil pipelines have captured the imagination of the environmental left, the reality is that land grabs in the name of “green” infrastructure is also a growing reality. The new rush to exploit the minerals of Africa is one such example. Another involves the Saami people, whose protest of a copper mine in Norway that would disrupt the land and traditional lifestyles of indigenous herders and fishers, was ignored. With the decision to permit the mine, Trade and Industry minister Røe Isaksen said, “Obviously, most of the copper we mine in the world today is used for transporting electricity. If you look at an electric car for example, it has three times the amount of copper compared to a regular car”.

While demand for access to land rich with minerals will rise, most of the pathways mapped out by the IPCC for limiting global temperature to 1.5°C incorporate the unrealistic use of massive tracts of land for capturing carbon out of the atmosphere. This is the response to a projected timeline in which emissions are not adequately brought down, and the resulting carbon overshoot must be compensated for with so called negative emissions technologies. Such scenarios paint a picture in which areas twice the size of India must be cultivated for biomass. The question is, whose land will be used? Who will be forcibly removed? Taken together, this so-called fourth industrial revolution of “green” technology has all the hallmarks of a militarily-enforced manifest destiny, in which the technologically advanced, hyper consumptive way of life for wealthy nations is violently preserved at the expense of both the planet and lives of impoverished people around the globe. In reality, the likely failure of such hail mary carbon reduction schemes will affect everyone in a rising tide of scarcity and violence, as the global elites rely upon these same kinds of security and military institutions they’ve always turned toward in order to maintain hold on a crumbling order that they packaged as our salvation.

A WKOG parody advertisement that is more and more difficult to detect in the year 2019. NGOs and “environmental leaders” are more and more, openly functioning as key instruments of US imperialism.

In addition to the fact that contested land and minerals needed for a world powered by “green” tech could easily play a role in future conflicts, so long as militaries are economically supported and culturally celebrated, fossil fuels will remain a strategic commodity for armies around the world. As a dense, portable, and storable source of energy, fossil fuels will continue to be the central source of power for military vehicles. Imagine trying to run tanks, destroyers, and fighter jets on solar or wind charged batteries. While the notion of using biofuels in the military is increasingly gaining traction, most vehicles will not run on 100% biofuels, instead requiring a mixture with a standard petroleum derivative. For example, jet fuel made from biomass, known as bioject, can only be mixed at up to a 50% blend. Furthermore, the production of biofuels remains largely energy inefficient and land intensive. The mass adoption of biofuels would likely displace arable land at a time when global population is growing, droughts and extreme weather is increasing, and fantastical schemes to sequester carbon through the cultivation of massive carbon sinks will already be driving up food prices. Rising food prices, of course, is yet another potential source of conflict, so “greening” the military is no surefire method to reduce global tensions.

And so long as militaries, whether American or otherwise, have a critical need for fossil fuels, petroleum will remain a strategic commodity. This means that even if the United States were able to somehow convert its military to be entirely fossil fuel free, if other nations remain reliant upon the use of fossil fuels even if only for their military, control of the world’s oil supply will remain a strategic objective. What all of this suggests is that far from being a preventative measure for military violence, a switch to “green” tech, will likely have little if any impact on war, and in some cases may in fact become a pretext for colonialist land grabs and armed conflict. Only a dedicated anti-war, anti-imperialist movement that intersects with environmental protection, that loudly condemns the crimes and excesses militarism and consumer culture, rather than seeing them as constructive platforms for our future on earth, can have any hope in bringing about peace, and a stable, livable world.

In April 2016, The Climate Mobilization published the paper Leading the Public into Emergency Mode: A New Strategy for the Climate Movement. The paper weighs heavy with American exceptionalism. Notes of nationalism and cultural superiority waft throughout the document. [Source]

Many Westerners have bought into the “war propaganda” of this global push for a “green” tech fueled, militarily enforced capitalism. As both the economic and environmental situations deteriorate, perhaps the push for widespread adoption will indeed reach the kind of fevered pitch Bill McKibben advocates. This could very well come at a time when the militaries which avoided substantive critique and were instead elevated as potential allies in the “climate fight” come on full display. In this future where comforting narratives like McKibben’s steer the populace away from the much darker truth, manufactured humanitarian disasters provide the palatable cover for the dirty work of securing access to raw materials needed for battery production and wind turbines by armies whose bases are hardened for sea level rise, yet whose tactical vehicles are still necessarily dependent upon dense fossil fuel power. At this time of great uncertainty, a genuine dissent which had languished under the spell of false promises of “green” technology and ignored the mass violence that underpins modern industrial society, emerges out of necessity from the growing direness of global crop failures and economic breakdown. This growing dissent, which threatens the illegitimate power held by the global elites, is met with heavy repression that draws upon decades of unimpeded surveillance tech implementation, the militarization of global police forces, and the use of private security. The participants in such a movement would have done well to have heeded the reality that the private contractor TigerSwan, which had operated inside of Afghanistan and Iraq in support of the US war efforts, had been mobilized against protesters during the militarized crackdown at Standing Rock under the watch of President Obama. Nations which had celebrated their institutions of violence while dismissing the real threats such a framework posed, would fall under the shadow of the very security forces they had funded to the detriment of systemically oriented solutions.

This is the nightmare that any genuine climate movement would openly seek to avoid, but it is a nightmare that is well under way. Rather than obfuscating the multifaceted threat that a culture of tech driven consumerism and militarism plays in an increasingly resource scarce, climate destabilized world, such a movement would seek to highlight those connections between planetary exploitation, violence, and the climate crisis as a means to deescalate the potential for future global wars, all while acknowledging the reality that climate catastrophe is now an inevitability. It is increasingly clear that we will not stay below the 1.5°C aspirational target set forth in the toothless Paris Climate Accords, and the 2°C target will not likely be respected either.  Widespread disruption is now an inevitablility. Which begs the question, what sort of framework will humanity adopt in approaching this future? Will it be one of a triumphal war rhetoric, “practical” alliances with the military industrial complex, and the downplaying of the disastrous consequences of militarism?

Clive L. Spash, WU Vienna University of Economics and Business, Vienna, Austria, This Changes Nothing: The Paris Agreement to Ignore Reality, Globalizations, 2016 Vol. 13, No. 6, 928–933

Clive L. Spash, WU Vienna University of Economics and Business, Vienna, Austria, This Changes Nothing: The Paris Agreement to Ignore Reality, Globalizations, 2016 Vol. 13, No. 6, 928–933

 

Climate change at its core is about conflict. It is a conflict between how humans live with each other and with the planet, and this conflict builds on centuries of violence and exploitation that are enmeshed, often unseen by the privileged, within the economic, social, and political systems to this day. We can either face our own discomfort and confront the structures of violence that have brought us to this turning point in human history, or we can soothe ourselves with comfortable narratives and allow the internal conflicts inherent in the system to catapult us far beyond the breaking point. With the primary focus currently being on narrow and insufficient technological approaches to a holistic problem of violence and exploitation, a broad and genuine environmental and social justice movement has yet to materialize. While climate catastrophe is now inevitable, its scale has yet to be determined. The underlying social conflicts we refuse to engage with today become the amplified armed conflicts of tomorrow. Only when people join together, rejecting mass consumer culture embodied in capitalism and enforced through militarism, to instead create leverage through sustained civil disobedience and the creation of ecologically minded communities that view life as sacred, can the kind of radical demands needed for the potential of a livable future be realized.

In all likelihood, such resistance will be met with the kind of structural State (and non State) violence that Bill McKibben ignores, but to refrain from the kind of resistance that opens the door to structural change, and to ignore the reality of deep structural violence, only guarantees a violent collapse, as heavily armed and economically stratified societies run up against the hard limits of physics. Indeed, we are now faced with the potential that no matter how great our efforts, the everyday materialism and violence that makes our system function, and the steepness of the changes now required, may prove too daunting to adequately address. How people choose to deal with this reality is yet to be seen, but it is better to have such conversations now than in the midst of bloody social breakdown. Solace can be found in the solidarity of peers, among those who would both work for a better future or stand at your side when such a future is no longer possible. Rather than masking reality with feel good propaganda that profits the wealthy, it is our decision to move with a fierce and loving intent from within a darkness we are able to acknowledge, that gives us the capacity to be both carriers of genuine transformation in a troubled yet salvageable world, and steadfast companions in one that is doomed.

 

[Luke Orsborne contributes time to the Wrong Kind of Green critical thinking collective. You can discuss this article and others at the Climate Change and War group on social media.]

 

[1] Continued: These mining + processing operations have left a legacy of potential exposures to uranium waste from abandoned mines/mills, homes and other structures built with mining waste which impacts the drinking water, livestock + humans. As a heavy metal, uranium primarily damages the kidneys + urinary system. While there have been many studies of environmental + occupational exposure to uranium and associated renal effects in adults, there have been very few studies of other adverse health effects. In 2010 the University of New Mexico partnered with the Navajo Area Indian Health Service and Navajo Division of Health to evaluate the association between environmental contaminants + reproductive birth outcomes. This investigation is called the Navajo Birth Cohort Study and will follow children for 7 years from birth to early childhood. Chemical exposure, stress, sleep, diet + theireffects on the children’s physical, cognitive + emotional development will be studied. Billboard: JC with her younger sister, Gracie (who is a NBCS participant). #stopcanyonmine” [Source]

Watch: Banking Nature

Watch: Banking Nature

October 30, 2019

 

In “Banking Nature”, directors Denis Delestra and Sandrine Feydel document the growing movement to monetize the natural world, and to turn endangered species and threatened areas into instruments of profit.

2014. 90 minutes

This film investigates the financialization of the natural world.

PrintProtecting our planet has become big business with companies promoting new environmental markets. This involves species banking, where investors buy up vast swathes of land, full of endangered species, to enable them to sell “nature credits.” Companies whose actions destroy the environment are now obliged to buy these credits and new financial centres have sprung up, specializing in this trade. Many respected economists believe that the best way to protect nature is to put a price on it. But others fear that this market in nature could lead to companies having a financial interest in a species’ extinction. There are also concerns that—like the subprime mortgage crisis of 2008—the market in nature credits is bound to crash. And there are wider issues at stake. What guarantees do we have that our natural inheritance will be protected? And should our ecological heritage be for sale? [Source: Via Decouvertes Production]

Grand Prize of the City of Innsbruck nature film festival. Jury statement:

“Whoever thought that capitalizing natural resources could be a solution for our ecological crisis knows better now: thanks to the investigative approach of the directors. It is clear that the protection of endangered species should not be left to multinational companies and financial consultants. Although the topic is highly complex, the film remains exciting to the very end. The development to profit from nature as revealed by the film is frightening.”

9 AWARDS & 24 sélect. internationales

Voir la liste complète/To see the list

 

Listen: How to Sell a Pretend Climate Movement: Reading Act IV of Cory Morningstar’s Series on the NGO Industrial Complex

Listen: How to Sell a Pretend Climate Movement: Reading Act IV of Cory Morningstar’s Series on the NGO Industrial Complex

Ghion Journal

September 18, 2019

By Stephen Boni

 

 

About 43% of the signers of the Declaration of Independence were lawyers. After the establishment of the United States government, over a near 250-year period, the number of lawyers in Congress has, by-and-large, mirrored that original percentage. In fact, our current Congress is made up of 43% lawyers. This is a powerful voting block of like-minded people.

Additionally, it isn’t much of a secret how important legal expertise is to modern corporations and how many lawyers exist among their executive ranks. And America’s most prominent corporations represent the financial backing of nearly all members of Congress.

The way lawyers have been trained to think, the skills they possess, the way they maneuver, and what they maneuver for casts a massive shadow over what kinds of decisions get made for our society—and what kind of loose consensus (or acquiescence) gets achieved in order for those decisions to stick.

What I’m talking about is how those decisions are sold to us. Because, at this point, there are very few societal decisions that are made from the ground up by regular citizens.

As I sat in front of the Words of Others podcast mic this week to read Act IV of Cory Morningstar’s multi-part series on how the corporate elite are using a string of nonprofits, foundations and advocacy organizations to engineer a specific set of likely ineffectual responses to the climate and pollution crisis, I noticed how she highlighted elite use of nuanced language—language that smacks of lawyerly thinking—as one of the key methods members of the Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) industrial complex use to mask the basic assumptions behind the solutions they want the world to adopt.

It’s interesting to me that it was this aspect of Morningstar’s piece that jumped out. The issue of precise but deceptive language is not the focal point of the article. What her piece zeroes in on, actually, is the evidence of a coordinated, psychologically thought through marketing campaign cutting across the entire swath of NGOs currently inserting themselves into the climate crisis movement.

But a marketing campaign is about storytelling—and storytelling is, in large part, about the use of language. And the language used to sell us a movement is consciously connected by its salespeople to the language used to sell the movement’s solutions.

About a quarter of the way through the piece, Morningstar notes the use of a very specific phrase in the proposals of NGO-connected elites to define their specific goal for reducing carbon emissions: “Net Zero Emissions”.

As she explains, this is a very precise modification of carbon goals articulated by NGOs in previous years, and certainly a departure from what grassroots climate activists seek. Because “net zero emissions” doesn’t mean a massive reduction in the amount of carbon we’re pumping into the atmosphere:

Rather, it is the amount of emissions being put into the atmosphere being equal to the amount being “captured.”

To achieve that carbon capture, the NGO industrial complex is seeking huge investments for carbon capture storage technology, investments they don’t want to make with their own money but want to take from pension funds and our tax dollars. And, as Morningstar laid out in Act III of her series (which you can listen to here), they want to securitize these investments in green technology so they can become a series of financial products that invigorate growth in a now perpetually sluggish capitalist economy.

This tricky use of language as a sales technique is remarkably precise. It’s not just marketing-ese. It’s downright lawyerly. “Net Zero Emissions” sounds good, doesn’t it? But it doesn’t mean genuinely cutting carbon emissions, reducing consumption, or pollution, or anything, honestly, that would hinder corporate profits.

Since the biosphere has not a single care about what our economic system is, and is only reacting to our very physical waste, “net zero emissions” is no solution at all. There is nothing adaptive about it. It places perceived economic needs over the healing needs of the Earth—which we need healthy for our own precarious wellbeing. But you would only know that by digging into the phrase, and most of us don’t parse the world like that or have the time to think about such things too deeply.

These lawyerly manipulations are not only effective at diverting us from genuine adaptive solutions to climate change and pollution, they’re also tailor-made to make sense to the lawyerly sensibilities of Congress, which, as we remember, is made up of people who have a vested interest in pursuing “solutions” (and use of the public purse) that meet the needs of their corporate donors.

In both politics and astro-turfed movements, we see this linguistic move time and again. Barack Obama was one of the most gifted practitioners when he was campaigning to be president. He knew—as the elites who run the world’s NGOs know—that citizens understand instinctively that things are so bad that only some kind of systemic change will make them better. Since that type of change was not his goal, he concocted a rhetorical style so open to interpretation, so precise and conscious in its use of vague language, that he was able to convince most of the voting public that he was their voice for sweeping change.

Even thought he wasn’t.

That particular use of precision; precision as a way to conceal, is built in to marketing to be sure, but even more so, it’s built in to legal language. In our Constitution itself, written by men steeped in legal thinking, we can see the good and evil sides of legal language’s ability to both reveal and hide meaning.

We live in a complex, often faceless society. Inverted totalitarianism, as theorized by famed historian Sheldon Wolin, gets expressed through the anonymity of the corporate state. Large nonprofits, foundations, NGOs and their backers on Wall Street are an embedded part of that corporate state.

In her extensive research and her journalism, Cory Morningstar is not trying to shit on Greta Thunberg or the Extinction Rebellion activists currently shutting down parts of London. She’s trying to tear apart that legalese-influenced language so we can inoculate ourselves against propaganda—and pursue ground-up solutions that actually have a chance of ensuring us a healthier planet, a healthier society and a healthier life.

After all, wouldn’t it be interesting if those taking part in these movements, armed with a little knowledge on who’s running these organizations, turned on their putative masters and spun the movement out of their control?

Now wouldn’t that be a kick in the pants?

Incidentally, here’s how you can listen to the first three parts of Morningstar’s series:

Act I

Act II

Act III

As always, thanks for reading and thanks for listening.

 

[Stephen Boni is both Ghion Journal’s current editor and a contributing writer. His main interest is in analyzing the workings of empire and exploring ways to dismantle and replace systems of oppression. A conflicted New Englander with an affinity for people, music and avoiding isms, he lives in Oakland, California with his wife and young daughter.]

 

Listen: Making Money Off of Green Debt: Cory Morningstar Finds Corporate Wolves Behind Environmental Sheep

Listen: Making Money Off of Green Debt: Cory Morningstar Finds Corporate Wolves Behind Environmental Sheep

Ghion Journal

October 4, 2019

By Stephen Boni

“Listen: Making Money Off of Green Debt: Cory Morningstar Finds Corporate Wolves Behind Environmental Sheep”

 

 

Building through the privatization-friendly Reagan-Bush era of the 1980s, ramping up significantly with Bill Clinton’s signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in the 1990s, and solidified through the de facto repeal of the post-Great Depression separation between investment and commercial banks at the end of Clinton’s scandal-plagued final term in office at the turn of the millenium, the United States went through a very noticeable shift in how its economy functioned. Even people who didn’t pay attention to such things could feel it.

While the fundamentals of large-scale state capitalism remained—in which the U.S. government used debt and taxpayer dollars to provide the corporate sector with expensive research and development (the internet, for example), and offered crucial patent protection, favorable interest rates, extra cash in the form of subsidies, a wonderfully loophole-ridden tax code, near nonexistent enforcement of antitrust and environmental law, suppression of trade unions, and the stacking of government jobs and judicial appointments with pro-corporate professionals—the actual physical manifestations of the U.S. economy that those structures support were abandoned in ways they never had been before.

No longer did large investment firms or the stock market spend their time rewarding companies that invested in their own development, equipment, channels of distribution, growth and productivity of their workforces, etc. NAFTA, with its incentive to move jobs to other countries (particularly Mexico, which has even fewer environmental protections and drastically lower labor costs), made much of that boring, analytical work unnecessary.

So what was the newly unleashed finance sector of the economy supposed to make real money off of? Sure, they could preside over the mammoth corporate mergers and acquisitions that Reagan had freed up. That brought in some cash. The newly released internet offered speculative benefits as well. But the real money turned out to be, ironically, in the absence of money. It turned out to be in debt. Corporate debt, which could be packaged up into securities and sold to investors, but even more, the debt (mostly mortgage-related) that regular citizens were racking up to maintain their lifestyles in a less welcoming economy. Now that….oh wow, the transmogrification of that shaky debt into securities was the true windfall.

All of this fiddling around with debt was the hallmark of an economy that now focused much of its energy on finance and imaginary “products” that had no real physical presence in the real economy. We all know what came of that in 2008. One of the best explainers of how and why our economy—and indeed the world economy—blew apart was Matt Taibbi who, in a colloquial and hilariously sarcastic series of articles in Rolling Stone, famously described the investment bank Goldman Sachs as a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.”

The Next Financial Frontier

All of this is old hat by now, right? Nothing about this current formation of our economy has really changed in the decade following the crash of 2008. Obama gave our money to the debt-ridden banks; a shit-ton of people lost their jobs and their homes; local tax revenues dried up; and the propped up and bloated finance sector simply found a new way to profit off citizen debt by creating securities out of student loan and car loan debt. Capitalism, in its current American form, could only really make money, easy money, fast money (for an ever decreasing slice of the population) out of made-up financial illusions.

Even if you subtract the recent and growing social unrest—seen through the brief flash of the quickly beaten down and co-opted Occupy and Black Lives Matter movements, the proliferation of white nationalist and xenophobic groups, and the explosion of voter political disobedience in the forms of the 2016 Sanders and Trump campaigns—American capitalism has clearly been running into a dead end. Right now, even the biggest fans of our current economy in the financial world are anticipating a train wreck in which the latest debt bubble, which also includes corporate debt, will explode, leaving even more people in desperate trouble as a result.

This is the context that Cory Morningstar is operating in with Act III of her multi-part series called “The Manufacturing of Greta Thunberg. For Consent: The Most Inconvenient Truth. Capitalism is in Danger of Falling Apart.”

You can listen to the piece here and I believe you can learn a lot from it.

And you can hear Acts I & II of the series through the Words of Others podcast.

As Cory documents through the various sections of her article—particularly in her exploration of the investor-backed and nominally African solar power provider M-Kopa—the goal of the Western corporate elites who are operating in the background of “climate strike” activists and the organizations with which they’re affiliated is not to find a way out of a dead ending capitalism. It is not to engineer a low-carbon, less consumptive, less polluted, more equal world. Not at all. They’re trying to engineer what is essentially a fantasy—a slightly less carbon producing, still consumptive, slightly less polluted, equally unequal world that maintains the current position of the elite capitalist class (a class they all belong to).

To make that happen, it’s all about inflating a new financial bubble. As Cory explores, using a variety of primary source material, if the debt of corporations and regular citizens could be turned into financial securities and sold as investments to hedge funds, pension funds and other institutions, then why not create a new form of debt related to greening the economy? And why not do it on the backs of the poor and the non-white? And why not prove the investment potential of that debt so it can be similarly securitized and sold by major financial firms? Capitalism rescued! At least for a little while longer.

This is what Al Gore and his cohorts are trying to unlock. This is their mission. And guiding inspirational movements led by relatable teenagers such as Greta Thunberg is how they gain the critical mass among the general population they need to grease the wheels of government and industry and make their banal dream a reality.

It’s this insight that make’s Morningstar’s series so important. She is trying to help you see the wolves and their sharp smiles peeking out from behind those cuddly lambs you want to help and support.

As always, thanks for reading and thanks for listening.

 

[Stephen Boni is both Ghion Journal’s current editor and a contributing writer. His main interest is in analyzing the workings of empire and exploring ways to dismantle and replace systems of oppression. A conflicted New Englander with an affinity for people, music and avoiding isms, he lives in Oakland, California with his wife and young daughter.]

A Letter From the Yankton Sioux Territory

A Letter From the Yankton Sioux Territory

A Native community suffers massive flooding, far from the eye of the media

 

Sierra Club

October 14, 2019

By Jacqueline Keeler

 

 

Photos by Jacqueline Keeler

 

On Tuesday, October 8, members of the media were held in rapt attention as Greta Thunberg, the Swedish climate change activist, visited the tribal lands of the Standing Rock Sioux, the Native American nation that three years ago spearheaded a historic campaign against the Dakota Access oil pipeline.

“The #FridaysForFuture movement stand [sic] in solidarity with your struggles and hardships,” the climate strike teenager announced in a tweet the day before, during a visit to the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, “and the struggles of all Indigenous peoples in protecting their land, water, and traditions.”

Thunberg’s expression of solidarity for the struggles of Indigenous peoples was no doubt heartfelt. Before visiting Pine Ridge and Standing Rock, Thunberg had rallied with youths in Iowa City, Iowa. On her way between Iowa and Pine Ridge, she drove right drove past the Yankton Sioux reservation, where the community of Lake Andes has been struggling to stay above water since a “bomb cyclone” hit the region in March. If Thunberg had wanted to see firsthand “the struggles of all Indigenous peoples,” she could have stopped at Lake Andes, where she could have born witness to the neglect still endured by so many Native American communities.

I visited the Yankton Sioux reservation in early October, and even I—a Native person used to seeing how Indigenous communities are poorly treated—was shocked by what I saw there.

Hundreds of Native children have spent the past six months living in homes flooded by water. The main road to town, Highway 18, just reopened in September. Then, just two weeks after the reopening, another epic storm brought 11 inches of rain in 24 hours. The new road washed out, and homes once again flooded. Residents now rely on a much longer and rutted dirt road to get to town and school. During heavy rains, runoff also makes that road impassable.

“Our community is literally drowning,” the tribe declared in an August 12 statement released even before the latest spout of rains, “due to State negligence and indifference to the health and well-being of our people.” But state and federal officials have offered little to no help. There’s a National Guard unit based on the reservation, just 20 miles away in the town of Wagner, where the tribal offices are located. Tribal members say the Wagner National Guard unit has extensive bridge-building and water-treatment equipment to deal specifically with water disasters, and a trip from Wagner to Lake Andes usually takes just 15 minutes. But when the tribe asked Governor Kristi Noem to mobilize the guard, the South Dakota governor refused the tribe’s request.

The Trump administration has also turned a blind eye to the humanitarian crisis on the Yankton Sioux reservation. After the most recent rains and flooding, the White House issued an emergency declaration for 25 counties in South Dakota, including the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and the Rosebud Sioux Tribe. The Yankton Sioux Tribe and the county that contains the reservation, Charles Mix County, were not included. Some Yankton tribal members speculate that the lack of action by both the state and federal governments may be due to their active support of Standing Rock Sioux during the Dakota Access Pipeline fight.

“It’s like we live in a third-world country and we are forgotten,” Lauren Crowe, a Yankton Sioux resident of Lake Andes, told me. “No one cares.”

If Thunberg had visited Lake Andes, she would have seen that the children living at the tribe’s White Swan housing have skin ailments like ringworm and impetigo. The standing water in and around their homes has tested positive for E. coli. Local residents told me that one child has been treated for E. coli and another, a four-year-old, contracted MRSA, an antibiotic-resistant staph infection, at the hospital. Students from White Swan housing are being teased in school because, despite washing their clothes, other students can detect the smell of mold on them. In the past week, three families have made the difficult choice to abandon their homes because their children rely on nebulizers or have pneumonia and are having difficulty breathing.

On the Yankton Sioux reservation, the flooding of a home’s basement can be a major catastrophe. Many of the small homes are occupied by two to three generations, and before the flood the basements were used not only for storage but also as living quarters. As water seeped through the walls of the basements, furniture and beds were destroyed— a total loss for families who cannot afford to replace them. Since many families stored clothing in their basements, some children are now going to school without winter coats and boots.

As the black mold continues to grow in their homes, community volunteers suit up to clean the homes of elders or the disabled who cannot complete this task themselves. One resident returned home from the hospital after an organ transplant with his wife and seven kids to find black mold growing in the fridge.

Some residents are hesitant to turn on their basement furnaces, fearful they will release toxic mold spores into their homes. Yet winter has already descended upon the Great Plains. A snowstorm blanketed the western part of South Dakota earlier this month, and nighttime temperatures are now below freezing.

Since their homes smell of sewage, many Lake Andes residents prefer to eat meals together at the community center where neighbors volunteer to make meals three times a day. In the mornings, grandmothers gather early to drink their coffee together, unable to stand the smell of their homes.

But the community center, which also contains the gym and tribal police station, is a precarious refuge: It has flooded four times since March. Across the road is a sewage-treatment station, which has also been underwater and is now sandbagged. Tribal authorities watch it carefully; if it fails, sewage will back up and the entire community of 65 houses will have to be evacuated.

The ongoing flooding and displacement are, in a way, history repeating itself. The families that live in tribal housing at Lake Andes are mainly the descendants of the village of White Swan that once existed on the Missouri River. Like the town of Cannonball on the Standing Rock Reservation, it was flooded by the Army Corps of Engineers to build a hydroelectric dam in the 1950s. A series of dams were constructed under the Pick-Sloan Plan that selectively flooded and displaced Native American farmers and communities up and down the Missouri River. The Army Corps of Engineers later rebuilt Cannonball at Standing Rock. White Swan, however, was never rebuilt.

The Corps of Engineers did relocate the 19th-century, white clapboard Episcopal church of St. Philip the Deacon and hundreds of graves. But not all of the bodies were moved. In 1999, when water was lowered behind the Fort Randall dam, caskets and funeral objects were revealed to still be in place.

The water standing in the basements and pooling around the homes of Lake Andes likely also contains hazardous runoff from the intensive farming practices of the Native community’s white neighbors. The Yankton Sioux reservation is heavily “checkerboarded.” That is, after the Dawes Allotment Act of 1887, land was allotted per tribal member, and any land “leftover” was opened up to homesteading. (Famously, one of those homesteading families was that of novelist Laura Ingalls Wilder, whose family resided on Dakota land). So in many places on the Great Plains, land ownership alternates from between tribal and nontribal.

Driving across southeastern South Dakota from Iowa and Nebraska, a visitor sees neat and tidy farms stretching to the horizon—seemingly the realized vision of Thomas Jefferson’s dreamed-of agrarian republic. The price of this intensive farming of the formally wild prairie, however, is a poisoning of the lakes and groundwater with nitrates and phosphates from fertilizers and factory farms.

Lake Andes, once a popular resort destination, now experiences fish die-offs from algae blooms. Two winters ago, the lack of oxygen in the lake due to algae blooms killed many fish, which were then locked in winter ice—a haunting image that briefly took the Internet by storm.

Tribal members say they have been warned against allowing their dogs to swim in the lake water. Water from this same watershed is now filling people’s homes.

It’s too bad tribal leaders in Standing Rock did not look south to their relatives downriver on the Missouri and bring Thunberg to witness the suffering of Dakota children living in inundated houses.

During the epic battle against the Dakota Access Pipeline, the water protectors wore T-shirts and carried signs that said, “mni wiconi,” Lakota for “water is life.” While it’s true that water is life, it’s equally true that water can be death. America’s policies of displacement and “development” of our Dakota and Lakota homelands have turned water into a death sentence for our communities. As the Yankton Sioux tribal leaders put it, “we are literally drowning.”

 

 

[Jacqueline Keeler is a Diné/Ihanktonwan Dakota writer and contributor to The Nation, Yes! Magazine, Truthout, The New York Times, High Country News, and many other publications. She is the editor of Edge of Morning: Native Voices Speak for the Bears Ears and author of forthcoming Standing Rock to the Bundy Standoff: Occupation, Native Sovereignty, and the Fight for Sacred Landscapes.]

The Gift that Keeps on Giving To the Ruling Elite: Cognitive Dissonance

Solarian

October 12, 2019

By Guy Crittenden

 

 

It’s been interesting defending my article on Solarian.ca “Not This Kind of Green” on social media.

After I shared the article on Facebook a number of people attacked the post, invariably confounding my invitation that people read Cory Morningstar’s superb multi-part series “The Manufacturing of Greta Thunberg” with the idea that Morningstar or myself are somehow criticizing the young woman at the center of the recent media phenomenon.

This is ironic, as one of Morningstar’s arguments is that the young pig-tailed girl’s role in fronting the campaign — and her promotion to superstar status by the media and various NGOs, foundations, and political actors (when so many other activists have been sidelined or even jailed) — is to cause  and prevent meaningful debate.

This is a challenging subject to discuss; people come to the table with pre-existing world views, values and assumptions. In order to really grasp Morningstar’s intention, a progressive person (for example) might need to set aside the elements of their own confirmation bias in order to understand that the writer is not making common cause with right-wing reactionary criticisms of Thunberg and unpleasant attacks on the young woman from a personalized “hater” perspective but instead offers a savvy critique of monopoly capitalism and the contemporary network of non-profit agencies, lenders, military equipment suppliers, and deep state agencies that has cooperated on such projects as selling wars around the planet and making perpetual war a reality, expanding the surveillance state to Orwellian proportions, installing an explicitly Neo Nazi government in Ukraine, and a fascist government in Honduras (note that eight out of ten asylum seekers who show up a the US-Mexico border are from that country), and the attempted coups d’etat against socialist governments in Nicaragua, Venezuela, Syria and other countries.

It’s easy to throw sand in skeptical eyes, also, by deflecting to dead-end win/lose arguments about whether global warming is or is not happening, and the extent to which human activity is causing it. Slogans like “climate change denier” are useful agitprop in that regard; ergo, we have environmental specialists with Ph.D.’s who find they can’t converse about this without being shouted down, if their questions waver even slightly from the orthodoxy. I myself have a boundless interest in learning the truth (whatever it is); orthodoxies? Not so much. (To put it another way, I dislike orthodoxies even if they happen to be right about something.)

 

Protest signs at the Climate Strike action at Queen’s Park, Ontario. Photo by Guy Crittenden

Morningstar’s article series points out that an elite socio-political structure is poised to usurp the broad environmental movement at a critical juncture. No same person would argue we’re not in some kind of crisis. Ecological collapse is certainly underway, hence the disappearance of bees and the so-called “insect apocalypse.” This year the Pacific salmon fishery collapsed in a way that was eerily reminiscent of the Atlantic cod fishery. I could list many other situations, from overfishing and finning of sharks or the bleaching of coral reefs to the imminent extinction of orang-utans as their rainforests are converted into plantations for palm oil and other mono-culture crops. Manmade climate change is a significant narrative thread that’s interwoven with all these issues. An adult conversation is needed about exactly what’s happening and a broad and (very) democratic discussion is needed about optimal solutions — the kind of discussion that’s practically impossible in the current climate, especially with state and corporate media acting as stenographers for agencies like the CIA and the Pentagon.

Awareness is growing that we need to determine what will replace monopoly capitalism, for which the tragedy of the commons is practically baked in. This will involve close scrutiny of the decades of neoconservative and neoliberal policy that’s eroded civil society, enriched elites, inflicted financialization and austerity on domestic and foreign populations, converted much of the former industrial heartland of the United States and the UK into dystopias, and has refashioned the NATO countries (and others) into perpetual war economies. This is precisely the conversation that the aforementioned elites don’t want us to have. This is precisely the conversation against which a clever propaganda narrative is being constructed, utilizing the image of an idealistic young woman. And this is precisely the conversation Morningstar is attempting to instigate.

[John Pilger’s documentary film The New Rulers of the World (2001) meticulously examines how multinational corporations moved in on Indonesia and — in a pattern that’s repeated itself in countless countries from Greece to Jamaica, from Chile to Libya — looted the economy via extractive projects that benefit those companies and international lenders, while greasing the palms of the local ruling class, and do nothing for ordinary citizens who are stuck with staggering public and private debt, and in many cases live in shantytowns. The role of the non-profit sector and NGOs in austerity and neocolonial schemes is poorly understood by the public.]

And so, for that reason, I’m sharing this excellent article from artist and writer Hiroyuki Hamada. “In Defence of Cory Morningstar’s Manufacturing for Consent Series” supports Morningstar’s contention that oligarchic forces are seizing on the climate change narrative (and situation) to eventually implement policies, programs and technocratic solutions that constitute a Hail Mary Pass in perpetuating the very system that gave rise to the climate crisis in the first place.

We’ve all heard the old saying, “To a man with a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.” Similarly, to people mentally conditioned to accept the limited lines of reasoning and possibilities offered within hierarchical capitalism and neo-colonialism, with all their state-sanctioned violence, every environmental problem is a nail for which the obvious solution is an IMF/World Bank-funded megaproject, with bottom-up subsidies flowing to transnational corporations and authoritarian governments loyal to Washington. Australian journalist John Pilger made an excellent documentary — The New Rulers of the World — about how this all works, in the context of the economic colonization of Indonesia. If you like the mega projects described there, that benefited foreign companies and political elites while doing nothing for ordinary people (many of whom live in shantytowns and are now the subject of  austerity programs), you’re going to love what those same elites construct in the name of fighting climate change, all with your consent obtained via propaganda.

If you find this suggestion offensive, if you can’t get past your love of Greta Thunberg to seriously entertain these ideas, consider that perhaps the propaganda is working as intended.

 

 

[Guy Crittenden is an environment and business journalist and award-winning book author (The Year of Drinking Magic: Twelve Ceremonies with the Vine of Souls, Apocryphile Press) based in Innisfil, Ontario, Canada and Principal of Crittenden Communication. Contact Guy at guy@crittendencommunication.com]

Global Netwar 2019

Global Netwar 2019

mill u

October 24, 2019

By Jay Taber

 

 

INTRODUCTION

In 1994, an indigenous movement emerged that would forever change the face and the language of resistance. The Zapatista were arguably the first grassroots movement to utilize the full potential of a decentralized communications structure known as “netwar”, which is shorthand for networked psychological warfare.

Effective netwar as demonstrated by the Zapatista relies on the strategic use of all available forms of communication–including street art, public gestures, signage, text and audio/visual expressions, all of which relate to an overall theme that is apparent and memorable. Such communications must also stand in sharp contrast to those of the opposition, in order to clearly distinguish your values from theirs.

Mobilization of netwar is more complex. It relies on time and place, the kinds of resources you have, and the challenges in front of you. Through their own mobilization, the Zapatista were able to maintain a discourse that would not be replaced by the opposition.

The most profound outcome of the 1999 WTO protests is the appearance of the netwar construct in American politics. The “Battle in Seattle” was fought not only in the streets, but also in the infosphere. The WTO protests were the first to take full advantage of the extremely dense and wide-reaching alternative media network which uses the internet. The use of “media special forces” is one of the hallmarks of netwar and informational conflicts.

The WTO protests were the Chiapas insurrection come to America. Like the Zapatista netwar, the conflict was one of networks versus markets. 

On January 1st, 1994, to coincide with implemetation of the NAFTA free trade agreement, the then unknown Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) launched an armed insurrection in Chiapas state against the Mexican government.

The flexible and improvised communications infrastructure used by the Direct Action Network was a significant feature in the protests. One of the dictums of netwar is that netwar actors have a much greater interest in keeping communications working, rather than shutting them down. The dense and diversified communications used by the Direct Action Network could not have been significantly harmed by any action less than a total media and communications blackout in Seattle. Not only is such an action impossible for the economic and social costs which would result, but a blackout of the required magnitude would be the informational equivalent of unconditional surrender by the establishment. Future protests will be even more information intensive. Both protesters and their opponents will have to come to terms with the implications of netwar and the struggle for information, understanding and “topsight.” Because the ultimate prize in a netwar conflict is understanding, not opinion, it is the quality of information, not the quantity, which determines the final outcome.

The essential conditions for victory in a netwar conflict are also the conditions which make waging netwar possible: the shared understanding of a situation which demands direct action. In many ways, the victory of the Direct Action Network was implicit in the fact that so many people understood the conflict and were willing to act on that understanding.

The streets of Seattle showed what democracy looks like.

NETWORKS

In 2001, RAND analysts David Ronfeldt and John Arquilla wrote in their seminal paper Networks and Netwars and the Fight for the Future, that the deep dynamic guiding their analysis is that the information revolution favors the rise of network forms of organization–the next major form of organization to come into its own to redefine societies–and in so doing, the nature of conflict and cooperation. The rise of networks, they argued, means that power is migrating to nonstate actors, and that whoever masters the network form stands to gain the advantage.

In 2003, their colleague Paul de Armond, research director for the Public Good network, observed,

“We are on the cusp of the biggest movement of social transformation that has hit this country in a generation. Among other things, that means the number of potential recruits is more than we’ve seen since the 1960s.”

Building on the work of Ronfeldt, de Armond, and Arquilla, I remarked in my 2005 book War of Ideas, “The challenge for those devoted to training and nurturing agents for social change is in providing programs that focus on the specific tools these agents will need–to develop research and analysis capacity in a manner similar to intelligence and security capabilities conducted during military warfare.”

With the hostile takeover of all mainstream media by private equity investors early in the 21st Century, investigative journalism died in mainstream newsrooms. This void in mass communication has since been supplanted with propaganda created by public relations (PR) firms hired by transnational corporations.

To counter this demise of reporting on vital issues, volunteer citizen journalists and a handful of independent reporters have taken up this essential task. Simultaneously, activist scholars turned to blogging about social conflict online. The challenge for these volunteers and independents is learning the principles of communications in conflict, which is not taught in journalism school, nor commonly understood.

As an example, citizen journalists, reporters and bloggers routinely violate the core principle of social conflict, which is to never repeat the talking points of your opposition. For some reason, they almost always begin their articles by stating their opposition’s talking points, and then refute them. Unfortunately, this means that everyone is discussing their opponents’ position—not theirs. Long story short, repetition sinks in.

NETWAR

  • Storytelling is of special significance to network organizations because it is the means by which they encourage members to identify with and act on behalf of the network.
  •  

  • When network organizations compete in storytelling with other organizations, they engage in narrative netwar.
  •  

  • In traditional wars, if one disables the leadership or normal channels of communication, the war is won. In netwar, the network adjusts quickly, continuing on the offensive on some fronts, and establishing alternative channels of communication.
  •  

    The central feature of informational conflicts is the struggle for understanding and knowledge, as opposed to more traditional conflicts which focus on controlling territories or resources. Netwar conflicts are struggles for understanding and information. The more inaccurate the assessment of opposing forces, the greater the advantage to the side which possesses “top-view”—comprehensive and realistic understanding.

    Netwar refers to social conflict in which the protagonists use network forms of organization and related doctrines, strategies, and sometimes technologies. Netwar players are likely to consist of dispersed organizations, small groups, and individuals who communicate, coordinate, and conduct their campaigns in a consultative and collaborative manner without a central command.

    Netwar is inherently less violent than other forms of conflict, particularly when it involves non-governmental organizations dedicated to human rights and peace causes. One of the first full-blown manifestations of netwar was the Zapatista conflict in Chiapas. The networked intervention of international groups placed very real limits on the use of violence by the Mexican government in suppressing the insurrection.

    Research separates facts from misinformation by finding the evidence that enables judgment. Information is the facts that matter; knowledge is information in a framework. Research and analysis is using what you do know to find out what you don’t.

    The use of political diplomacy for purposes of constraining political violence is not only ineffective; it is inappropriate and signals those who use violence that their opponents lack the moral disposition to counter aggressiveness.

    Misguided or cowardly reformers who engage them thus, do so at grave risk to a community.

    PUBLIC HEALTH MODEL

    In the body politic, social pathogens of aggression that surface in the form of such things as racism, fascism, homophobia, and xenophobia can be viewed and approached in a manner similar to public health.

    Each of these ideological diseases have origins, histories, distinct characteristics, and can be studied, monitored, and analyzed asking the same basic questions used by the Centers for Disease Control and the Institutes for Public Health:

  • Where does it come from?
  • What conditions allow it to prosper?
  • How is it transmitted?
  • What is its life cycle?
  • What causes it to become dormant?
  • Can it be eradicated?
  •  

    To make room for democracy, it is first necessary to circumscribe political violence. The Public Health Model of community organizing defines political violence as the suppression of free and open inquiry. The remedy of rendering ineffective the agents who practice political violence requires both training and structured reflection.

    INTELLIGENCE STRATEGY & TACTICS

    Concerned citizens and good government groups are frequently blind-sided by an opposition playing by a different set of rules. Part of this is put down to the fact that the models they bring to these situations don’t work. Often, their response to a problem is in a complete vacuum of information. While it’s real easy to get a lot of people involved in a community response, it’ll usually be ineffective because they don’t know what they’re up against.

    Research provides the facts and builds a knowledge base. That knowledge is filtered through analysis to determine strategy. Operational research guides the tactics used to accomplish the strategy. In netwar, multiple groups adopt their understanding of the situation to develop the strategy and tactics most favorable to their situation.

    The creation of discursive monoculture—intended to dominate all discussion of vital issues—is the result of a strategy by the power elite to prevent counter-power narratives from entering mainstream consciousness. Through hostile takeovers of government, media, and the non-profit industrial complex, the financial sector in the last decade has accomplished what official censorship and political repression could not: the mobilization of progressives in support of neoliberal fascism.

    The financial sector capture of media, academia, and civil society indicates a future of diminishing consciousness—a future where fantasies about political power enable the murder of indigenous activists and unembedded journalists with impunity. In A World of Make Believe, I elaborated on the fact that privatized mass communication now dominates public opinion to such a degree that all public discussion of vital issues is choreographed by PR firms.

    In Controlling Consciousness, I observed that the donor elites that set the civil society agenda benefit from Wall Street’s vertical integration of controlling consciousness, allowing them to fabricate news, as well as to integrate advertising with government propaganda. In order to maintain credibility, the non-profit PR firms subservient to the power elite, i.e. Avaaz, need to first establish a noble reputation, often using the tried-and-true method of poverty pimping—an effective and largely undetected tool in the art of social engineering.

    As I remarked in R2P: The Theatre of Catastrophe, under the neoliberal model of global conquest, social media marketing agencies like Avaaz, Purpose, and Amnesty International function as stage managers for the power elite in choreographed productions where neoliberal heroism can be enacted. These constructed events–that urge neoliberal military interventions in countries like Mali and Burundi—then draw in civil society as participants of moral catastrophe, where they actually become complicit in crimes against humanity.

    The ulterior strategy of Avaaz as the ‘Great White Hope’ in other venues, subsequently allowed this social media marketing agency to easily herd so-called progressives to line up behind the neoliberal imperial campaigns in Libya and Syria–where Avaaz literally designed and managed the PR campaign for NATO and the US–in order to present the Al Qaeda affiliate Al Nusra as the good guys in ‘white helmets’. Networked psychological warfare (Netwar) is not hard to grasp; it just isn’t discussed anywhere, making communication the invisible environment.

    CONCLUSION

    In 1991, Amnesty International eagerly acquiesced to the $11 million Wag the Dog public relations campaign–devised for the Pentagon by the Hill & Knowlton PR firm–to generate support for the US invasion of Iraq, and in 2012, AI was an enthusiastic cheerleader in support of the escalated bombing of Afghanistan by NATO.

    In 2015, Amnesty International–in one of the most egregious examples of the nihilism that now characterizes the human rights industry–endorsed the organized crime initiative to freely engage in human trafficking of women and children for sex slavery through the decriminalization of the prostitution industry–rather than choosing to support the Nordic model of decriminalizing the victims, but not the perpetrators.

    In 2015-2016 Amnesty International supported–and continues to support—US and NATO military aggression in countries like Libya and Syria, which is bolstered by the public relations campaigns of Avaaz and Purpose–Wall Street-funded marketing agencies with deep ties to the very heart of the military industrial complex. By unthinkingly supporting AI, these ‘peace and justice’ centers become complicit in these war crimes and crimes against humanity.

    Many so-called ‘peace and justice’ centers in the United States are still oblivious to the ongoing betrayal of human rights by Amnesty International (AI), which—like Human Rights Watch– has become increasingly corrupt over the past two decades. This brief overview is intended to help dispel the mistaken notion that AI is sacrosanct, and to prompt the pious poseurs–that comprise the purity networks in the US–to begin basing their policies, programs and associations on facts, rather than on outdated fantasies about the Human Rights Industrial Complex.

    In order to transition from these preconceived fantasies to research-based reality regarding human rights, these ‘peace and justice’ centers will need to reorient themselves to doing research related to digital netwar, rather than reflexively responding to press releases by Amnesty International, or to the social media propaganda by AI public relations associates Avaaz and Purpose. Until these local nodes of ostensibly noble causes do research, they will remain a notably unconscious milieu—infantile consumers, rather than informed and engaged citizens.

     

    For further reading, see The Zapatista Social Netwar in Mexico.

     

     

    [Jay Thomas Taber is a retired journalist whose investigations exposed institutional corruption, organized crime, and media complicity. In 2000, he was presented the Defender of Democracy award for his work that led to the convictions of Christian Patriot militia members in Seattle for making bombs to murder human rights activists.

    Jay received his MA in Humanities and Leadership at New College of California, where he designed the graduate program Activism and Social Change. He was a contributing editor of Fourth World Journal from 2005-2017, and communications director of the Public Good network (US and Canada) for 22 years.

    Jay is the author of Communications in Conflict–published by IC magazine in 2013–and Anti-Indian Movement on the Salish Sea, a six-part special report published by the Center for World Indigenous Studies in 2018. Shining a Light, an interview with Jay for SHIFT magazine (Australia), was published in 2015. He is the creator of INSiGHT.]

    Listen: What Do We See When We See Earth? Reading Act II of Cory Morningstar’s Research into the NGO Industrial Complex

    Listen: What Do We See When We See Earth? Reading Act II of Cory Morningstar’s Research into the NGO Industrial Complex

    Ghion Journal

    September 18, 2019

    “Listen: What Do We See When We See Earth? Reading Act II of Cory Morningstar’s Research into the NGO Industrial Complex”

     

    By Stephen Boni

     

     

    The planet Earth; the strange, beautiful, indifferent, often brutal, often tender home we inhabit, exists in a way that’s so much bigger, so much more complex, so much more mysterious than any civilization human beings can set on top of it.

    When you step out of whatever shelter you’ve got each morning, all of that astonishing simply presented timelessness is just there. In all its IS-ness. On the land and in the air. I’ve written this before in other essays. If you’re really dialed in, you can feel the whole thing breathe. The pure being of this place, even with all of the concrete, fumes and trash we’ve imposed on it, is an enormous overwhelming pulse. It is it’s own inspiration, in a sense.

    Despite cars and computers and nuclear fission and human beings, Earth itself remains stubbornly, ahistorically, gloriously uninterested in what we’re up to.

    I used to believe this. I used to believe this was at least a piece of the ultimate truth that would necessarily live beyond my ability to comprehend.

    But climate change has taught me something else. Earth reacts to what we’ve lain on top of it, underneath it and above it. It’s reacting right now. It’s been reacting for centuries. It’s not indifferent; not in the way I previously thought. And it’s heated reaction to our pollution, our war, our methane, and our ever-increasing carbon emissions is killing some of us—and may kill a whole lot more of us down the line.

    . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

    There’s a scene from the much-maligned Zabriskie Point, the 1970 counterculture film by Italian director Michaelangelo Antonioni, in which an American family, tourists, drive up to the edge of an extraordinary canyon. A geological testament to Earth’s paradox of constant change and absolute stillness. And the father of the family gets out of the car to look at this sublimity and says something to the tune of “wow, honey, this would be a great spot for a restaurant and a gift shop. We could make some real money up here.”

    It’s a quick scene. The voices of the actors are muffled by the naturalistic sound design, the interference of car and wind. But it lands like a mule-kick. Antonioni set the film in the U.S. for a reason. In 1970, as now (though dwindling), we’re the hegemon. It’s our culture that sees nature as a chance to make a buck, and thus afford us luxuries that take us further away from the Earth on which our feet are planted (and what gives us life in the first place). He gives America too much credit, of course. The logic of capitalism is a near worldwide phenomenon and the United States is perhaps the current greatest devotee.

    In Act II of her 6-part series about what lies behind today’s deceptively youth-driven climate justice movements, the independent investigative journalist/activist Cory Morningstar delves into non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the members of the corporate elite who conceive them, run them, and use them to redirect the passionate energies of young people, who want us to get off this toxic carbon carousel, towards profit-making projects.

    You can listen to The Words of Others podcast to hear a reading of Act II, The Manufacturing of Greta Thunberg: The Inconvenient Truth Behind Youth Co-Optation.

    What Morningstar gets at in her research is this: the wealthy philanthropists, marketers, economists, politicians and corporate players are merely more well-heeled versions of the middle-class family man looking out and finding a way to unsee the massive canyon in Zabriskie Point. Although they understand that climate change is real, that the choking of earth’s ecosystems through waste and pollution is real, they don’t gaze upon this destruction as an impetus to abandon capitalism as a system. They don’t kneel down in shame and gratitude and rejoicing that we yet can remake our relationship to our home, this Earth.

    Instead, they see it as a way to make a buck.

    But they can only make a buck off of this rolling catastrophe if they shove a quiet, thoughtful teenager in front of us. Galvanize us through heart and empathy. And redirect our tender emotions not into collective ecosystem restoration, but rather into “make-a-buck” solutions that will only serve to reproduce our separation from this home, from one another, and from the ineffable meaning that could nurture our brief time here.

    And I can’t help thinking how paltry it all is.

    When you read about kids across the country getting off school to take part in the climate strike, pay attention to who stands behind brave Greta Thunberg. Pay attention to who talks after her.

    Who is waiting there to channel your energy to heal this place into the weightless unmeaning futility of make-a-buck?

    As always, thanks for reading and thanks for listening.

     

    [Stephen Boni is both Ghion Journal’s current editor and a contributing writer. His main interest is in analyzing the workings of empire and exploring ways to dismantle and replace systems of oppression. A conflicted New Englander with an affinity for people, music and avoiding isms, he lives in Oakland, California with his wife and young daughter.]

     

    Listen: Don’t Take Movements at Face Value: Reading Cory Morningstar’s Research into Environmental Activist Greta Thunberg

    Listen: Don’t Take Movements at Face Value: Reading Cory Morningstar’s Research into Environmental Activist Greta Thunberg

    Ghion Journal

    September 5, 2019

    By Stephen Boni

     

     

    A few years back, I was working on a writing and interview project for a national nonprofit in which I spent time with professionals who focused on sustainability. I wasn’t hanging out with Julia “Butterfly” Hill or the descendants of Edward Abbey. These were people who were firmly part of the professional class and operating inside the system to varying degrees. Not everyone’s a radical and I found many of my interview subjects to be fascinating individuals who had accomplished worthwhile things.

    However, one issue threw me for a minor loop. During a discussion with a guy who was involved in the financial end of foundation work on climate change and ecosystems, he termed the natural processes occurring in ecosystems as “ecosystem services” that need to be quantified monetarily. “That’s weird”, I thought, so I probed and he enthusiastically explained how financializing the functioning of ecosystems would help the foundation he worked for create “deals” to structure the ways in which they would use their resources to help preserve or restore ecosystems in various parts of the world.

    His explanation made a certain amount of sense at the time, but the framing of natural processes to fit within a concept of markets and payments troubled me. On a planet undergoing constant (albeit often barely perceptible) evolutionary change, as well as continual stress due to the massive impact of capitalist economic models enacted on its ‘body’, I wondered how helpful it was to frame the millions-of-years-old interdependently balanced functioning of ecosystems as, essentially, an enterprise. Enterprises within capitalism seek growth at all costs. Ecosystems and the atmosphere don’t conform to or care about these constructs, so what was this financialization effort really all about?

    In the years since I conducted that interview, I’ve continued to look askance at the idea that we can avoid catastrophic ecosystem collapse by conceptualizing earth’s materials, relationships and processes as nothing more than a new set of markets within capitalism.

    With this uncomfortable feeling remaining near the surface of my consciousness, earlier this year I discovered the investigative journalism of Cory Morningstar (an admittedly late discovery, since she’s been writing for 10 years or more), who does in-depth research into the connections between nonprofits, startups, marketing, movement building, and the long-range planning of politicians and the capitalist class. Her series, the Manufacturing of Greta Thunberg, has helped me get a lot more concrete about the disquiet I experienced as I interviewed sustainability professionals.

    With the backdrop this week of the AOC-allied climate group ‘The Sunrise Movement’ praising presidential candidates like Elizabeth Warren (who has done next to nothing for the climate during her time as Senator) for environmental plans she discussed on a recent televised town hall, I thought it would be helpful to continue our podcast reading series—recently given the title “The Words of Others”—with the first section of Morningstar’s 6-part investigation into media celebrity Greta Thunberg and the climate organizations to which she’s connected.

    Morningstar’s work (all six pieces have also been compiled in book form) may prove instructive as those of us who are concerned about our survival on this planet try to focus on what activity can genuinely make a positive difference for the climate, the atmosphere and the health of our ecosystems.

    Listen here:

     

     

    [Stephen Boni is both Ghion Journal’s current editor and a contributing writer. His main interest is in analyzing the workings of empire and exploring ways to dismantle and replace systems of oppression. A conflicted New Englander with an affinity for people, music and avoiding isms, he lives in Oakland, California with his wife and young daughter.]