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Military thinkers: for a bright American future, look to sustainability and liberalism

David Roberts, Grist
A while back, somebody, I can’t remember who, sent me a paper by two military officials, Capt. Wayne Porter (Navy) and Col. Mark Mykleby (Marines), called “A National Strategic Narrative” (PDF). It’s not an official military document, just these guys’ thoughts, but they are high-placed advisors to Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, so it’s safe to say it represents cutting edge thinking in at least some significant military circles. I kept meaning to write about it, but it looks like the NYT stole my thunder.

The paper is a big-picture attempt to tell a new story about America’s place in the 21st century world, and to break once and for all from strategies and habits of thought that belonged in the 20th.

I really recommend reading the whole thing — it’s not that long. But here are the main shifts the authors describe (as described by Anne-Marie Slaughter in her intro):

  1. From control in a closed system to credible influence in an open system.
  2. From containment to sustainment.
  3. From deterrence and defense to civilian engagement and competition.
  4. From zero sum to positive sum global politics/economics.
  5. From national security to national prosperity and security.

The key point is that in an open, non-linear system, attempts to achieve security through control are futile. “Dominance, like fossil fuel, is not a sustainable source of energy,” as the authors put it. In a more multipolar world, where the U.S. is no longer the unquestioned hegemon, the focus should be on soft power and credible influence. The U.S. gains such influence by strengthening itself, by investing in its people and infrastructure, by maintaining mutually beneficial cooperation with other countries, and by becoming an inspirational example. Not by, say, spending half its money on a gigantic, bloated military.
(6 May 2011)
PDF of report:…

NY Times article:…

Renewable Energy Can Power the World, Says Landmark IPCC Study

Fiona Harvey, Guardian/UK
Renewable energy could account for almost 80% of the world’s energy supply within four decades – but only if governments pursue the policies needed to promote green power, according to a landmark report published on Monday.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the body of the world’s leading climate scientists convened by the United Nations, said that if the full range of renewable technologies were deployed, the world could keep greenhouse gas concentrations to less than 450 parts per million, the level scientists have predicted will be the limit of safety beyond which climate change becomes catastrophic and irreversible.

Investing in renewables to the extent needed would cost only about 1% of global GDP annually, said Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the IPCC.

Renewable energy is already growing fast – of the 300 gigawatts of new electricity generation capacity added globally between 2008 and 2009, about 140GW came from renewable sources, such as wind and solar power, according to the report.
(9 May 2011)
Renewables, yes! But they can’t make up for wasteful energy use. See Critical comments on “The Energy Report” by WWF and Ecofys by Ted Trainer at EB. -BA

Taboo Economics

Mark Engler, The New Internationalist
I have a proposal: Let’s double US government funds devoted to promoting renewable energy. Let’s expand allocations for foreclosure prevention to help another million Americans keep their homes. Let’s launch a $10-billion infrastructure programme to repair crumbling roads and bridges. Let’s double the number of new maths and science teachers that President Obama hopes to train, bringing the total to 200,000. And let’s hire back all of those police officers fired by the city of Camden, New Jersey – already among the most dangerous places in the country before budget constraints compelled it to dismiss half of its police force in December.

While we’re at it, let’s reduce the deficit by about $40 billion.

This proposition is not voodoo economics. It is taboo economics. All of these things could be accomplished by trimming US military spending by just 10 per cent. Some of these suggestions (teacher training, Camden cops) are trifling items by the standards of Pentagon budgeting, together accounting for less than the cost of a single Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter jet.

Last year, the New York Times website offered an interactive feature, through which readers could attempt to balance the budget by choosing between a variety of cost-saving measures. The exercise showed that runaway healthcare expenses must be controlled for the US government to remain solvent in the long term. Yet, even with the troublesome burden of our private healthcare system, covering the projected 2015 budget shortfall was easy, provided you did two things: allowed Bush-era tax cuts to expire (including estate tax cuts for the wealthy) and opted for a selection of modest rollbacks for the military.
(6 May 2011)

‘The Ecological Rift’: a radical response to capitalism’s war on the planet
(book review)
Simon Butler, LINKS (International Journal of Socialist Renewal)

The Ecological Rift: Capitalism’s War on the Earth
John Bellamy Foster, Brett Clark and Richard York
Monthly Review Press, 2010
544 pages

Climate change is often called the greatest environment threat facing humanity. The threat is very real. Unless we cut carbon pollution fast, runaway climate change will worsen existing environmental and social problems, and create new ones of its own.

But it’s no longer enough to simply refer to the climate crisis. Climate change is one part of a broader ecological disaster, brought about by an economic system that relies on constant growth, endless accumulation and ever-deepening human alienation.

A 2010 study published in Nature revealed some of the extent of this ecological crisis. The study, which was led by Sweden’s Johan Rockstrom and included US climate scientist James Hansen, identified nine “planetary boundaries” that are critical for human life on the planet.

Along with climate change, these boundaries are: global freshwater use, chemical pollution, ocean acidification, land use change, biodiversity (the extinction rate), ozone levels in the stratosphere, aerosol (or small particle) levels in the atmosphere and the nitrogen and phosphorus cycles that regulate soil fertility (and hence food production).

The study said three of these critical planetary boundaries – climate, the nitrogen cycle and biodiversity loss – had already been crossed. A further four – land use change, the phosphorus cycle, ocean acidification and freshwater use – are emerging problems. The scientists said these boundaries had not yet been breached, but could be soon if nothing was done.

… In their 2010 book, The Ecological Rift, US Marxists John Bellamy Foster, Brett Clark and Richard York remark on this study:

The mapping out of planetary boundaries in this way gives us a better sense of the real threat to the earth system. Although in recent years the environmental threat has come to be seen by many as simply a question of climate change, protecting the planet requires that we attend to all of these planetary boundaries, and others not yet determined.

The essential problem is the unavoidable fact that an expanding economic system is placing additional burdens on a fixed earth system to the point of planetary overload … Business as usual projections point to a state in which the ecological footprint of humanity will be equivalent to the regenerative capacity of two planets by 2030.

Capitalism, a grow-or-die system, must ignore the planet’s boundaries. But we cannot afford to: not if we are to secure a safe planet that can sustain human civilisation.

As Foster, Clark and York conclude:

No solution to the world’s ecological problem can be arrived at that does not take the surmounting of capitalism, as an imperialist world system, as its object. It is time to take the planet back for sustainable human development.

The Ecological Rift deserves to – and needs to – become a classic in its field. Dozens and dozens of new books, and many thousands of papers and articles, are published about the ecological crisis each year. The literature on the Earth’s growing environmental problems has become a minor growth industry in itself. But despite the scale of the crisis, surprisingly few environmentalists in the global North are challenging their own preconceptions about the present social and economic system, the causal role it plays in driving ecological decay, and the ways in which the system can be challenged, overcome and replaced.
(3 May 2011)

Poet Wendell Berry on Mankind’s Ecological Imprint

Washington Post
The author of more than 40 works of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, Wendell Berry has been the recipient of numerous awards and honors.

(5 May 2011)
Moving address by Wendell Berry. We posted a transcript Thursday. Excerpts:

“… We must not break things we cannot fix… If this imposes the verdict of guilt upon us all, so be it.

… We must abandon the homeopathic delusion that the damages done by industrialization can be corrected by more industrialization.

… We must quit solving our problems by moving on. We must try to stay put and to learn where we are – geographically, historically and ecologically.

… We must give up the notion that we are too good to do our own work and clean up our own messes. It is not acceptable for this work to be done by wage slavery or by enslaving nature. “