Why A Climate Conference is a Peace Conference

November 19, 2015


Naomi Klein and Jason Box in the New Yorker:

When our safety feels threatened, it’s difficult to think of anything else. Major shocks like the Paris attacks are awfully good at changing the subject. But what if we decided to not let it happen? What if, instead of changing the subject, we deepened the discussion of climate change and expanded the range of solutions, which are fundamental for real human security? What if, instead of being pushed aside in the name of war, climate action took center stage as the planet’s best hope for peace?

The connection between warming temperatures and the cycle of Syrian violence is, by now, uncontroversial. As Secretary of State John Kerry said in Virginia, this month, “It’s not a coincidence that, immediately prior to the civil war in Syria, the country experienced its worst drought on record. As many as 1.5 million people migrated from Syria’s farms to its cities, intensifying the political unrest that was just beginning to roil and boil in the region.”

As Kerry went on to note, many factors contributed to Syria’s instability. The severe drought was one, but so were the repressive practices of a brutal dictator and the rise of a particular strain of religious extremism. Another big factor was the invasion of Iraq, a decade ago. And since that war—like so many before it—was inextricable from the West’s thirst for Iraqi oil (warming be damned), that fateful decision in turn became difficult to separate from climate change. ISIS, which has taken responsibility for the attacks in Paris, found fertile ground in this volatile context of too much oil and too little water.

If we acknowledge that the instability emanating from the Middle East has these roots, it makes little sense to allow the Paris attacks to minimize our already inadequate climate commitments. Rather, this tragedy should inspire the opposite reaction: an urgent push to lower emissions as rapidly and deeply as possible, including strong support for developing countries to leapfrog to renewable energy, creating much-needed jobs and economic opportunities in the process. That kind of bold climate transition is our only hope of preventing a future in which, as a recent paper in the journal Nature Climate Change put it, large areas of the Middle East will, by the end of the century, “experience temperature levels that are intolerable to humans.”

The implications of a failure to bring carbon down to safer levels go well beyond amplifying catastrophes like Syria’s historic drought. The last time atmospheric CO2 was this high, global sea levels were at least six metres higher. We find ourselves confronted with ice-sheet disintegration that, in some susceptible areas, already appears unstoppable. In the currently overloaded CO2 climate, it’s just a matter of time until hundreds of millions of people will be displaced from coastal regions, their agricultural lands and groundwater destroyed by saltwater intrusion from sea rise. Among the most vulnerable areas are broad swaths of South and Southeast Asia—which include some of the world’s biggest cities, from Shanghai to Jakarta—along with a number of coastal African and Latin American countries, such as Nigeria, Brazil, and Egypt.

A climate summit taking place against the backdrop of climate-fuelled violence and migration can only be relevant if its central goal is the creation of conditions for lasting peace. That would mean making legally enforceable commitments to leave the vast majority of known fossil-fuel reserves in the ground. It would also mean delivering real financing to developing countries to cope with the impacts of climate change, and recognizing the full rights of climate migrants to move to safer ground. A strong climate-peace agreement would also include a program to plant vast numbers of native-species trees in the Middle East and the Mediterranean, to draw down atmospheric CO2, reduce desertification, and promote cooler and moister climates. Tree planting alone is not enough to lower CO2 to safe levels, but it could help people stay on their land and protect sustainable livelihoods.

We knew that the Paris summit wasn’t going to achieve all of this. But just days ago, bold collective action on climate seemed within reach: the climate movement was accelerating, winning tangible victories against pipelines and Arctic drilling; governments were strengthening their targets, and some were even starting to stand up to fossil-fuel companies.

Enough pressure existed, it seemed, to achieve the main goals of the conference: an enforceable and binding international treaty to ratchet down carbon emissions once and for all. But the movement believed that keeping the pressure up during the summit would be critical. That just got a lot harder.

The last time there was this much climate momentum was in 2008, when Europe was leading a renewable-energy revolution and Barack Obama was pledging, as he accepted the Democratic nomination, that his election would be “the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.” Then came the full reverberations of the financial crisis. By the time the world met at the Copenhagen climate-change conference, at the end of 2009, global attention had already shifted away from climate to bank bailouts, and the deal was widely considered to be a disaster. In the years that followed, support for renewables was slashed across southern Europe, ambitions dwindled, and pledges of climate financing for the developing world virtually disappeared. Never mind that a decisive response to the climate crisis, grounded in big investments in renewables, efficiency, and public transit, could well have created enough jobs to undercut the discredited logic of economic austerity.

We cannot afford to allow this story to be repeated, this time with terror changing the subject. To the contrary, as the author and energy expert Michael T. Klare argued weeks before the attacks, Paris “should be considered not just a climate summit but a peace conference—perhaps the most significant peace convocation in history.” But it can only do that if the agreement builds a carbon-safe economy fast enough to tangibly improve lives in the here and now. We are finally starting to recognize that climate change leads to wars and economic ruin. It’s time to recognize that intelligent climate policy is fundamental to lasting peace and economic justice.


10 Responses to “Why A Climate Conference is a Peace Conference”

  1. Paul Magnus Says:

    “As many as 1.5 million people migrated from Syria’s farms to its cities, intensifying the political unrest that was just beginning to roil and boil in the region.”

    and food prices went up!

  2. ubrew12 Says:

    Just before Copenhagen COP15, the Climategate emails were released by Russian Secret Service, who hacked them. The day before Pope Francis traveled to America after releasing his encyclical on Climate Change, he and his concern were tossed off the front page by a white supremacist killing a bunch of parishioners at a black church. A month ago, having previously done little to involve itself in the Syrian civil war, Russia suddenly starts bombing the foes of Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad, such as ISIS. This precipitates a terrorist response with a suspicious focus on Paris, of all places, that threatens to overwhelm the COP21 Paris talks and has already ruined efforts to ‘turn out the protesters’ for Climate Action at that venue.

    According to British Petroleum, the value of proven oil reserves at existential risk of remaining unexploited thanks to ‘the environmentalists’ gathering in Paris in a week is $100 trillion.

    Box and Klein: “Major shocks like the Paris attacks are awfully good at changing the subject.” If Box and Klein know that, what are the chances the owners of $100 trillion in oil know it too?

    • ubrew12 Says:

      “How can you talk about Climate Change AT A TIME LIKE THIS?”
      I predict that every time people gather to promote action on CC, something will happen that will allow Right-wing pundits (and perhaps even Papal advisers) to pose precisely that question.

    • And as everyone knows, the Bush administration used missiles disguised as airplanes on 9/11 to distract the public away from growing concerns about climate change, but thanks to folks at ClimateCrocks who have taken care to avoid breathing the mind-numbing fallout from ChemTrails, the truth can be told.

      Wallow in conspiracy theory, we much? (li’l Al Sharpton lingo there) You fellows are the gift that keeps on giving.

      • greenman3610 Says:

        as everyone now knows, the Bush administration ignored warnings of “spectacular” imminent attacks, just as they ignored warnings about climate change impacts.

        “Over the past eight months, in more than a hundred hours of interviews, my partners Jules and Gedeon Naudet and I talked with Tenet and the 11 other living former CIA directors for The Spymasters, a documentary set to air this month on Showtime.

        The drama of failed warnings began when Tenet and Black pitched a plan, in the spring of 2001, called “the Blue Sky paper” to Bush’s new national security team. It called for a covert CIA and military campaign to end the Al Qaeda threat—“getting into the Afghan sanctuary, launching a paramilitary operation, creating a bridge with Uzbekistan.” “And the word back,” says Tenet, “‘was ‘we’re not quite ready to consider this. We don’t want the clock to start ticking.’” (Translation: they did not want a paper trail to show that they’d been warned.) Black, a charismatic ex-operative who had helped the French arrest the terrorist known as Carlos the Jackal, says the Bush team just didn’t get the new threat: “I think they were mentally stuck back eight years [before]. They were used to terrorists being Euro-lefties—they drink champagne by night, blow things up during the day, how bad can this be? And it was a very difficult sell to communicate the urgency to this.”

        That morning of July 10, the head of the agency’s Al Qaeda unit, Richard Blee, burst into Black’s office. “And he says, ‘Chief, this is it. Roof’s fallen in,’” recounts Black. “The information that we had compiled was absolutely compelling. It was multiple-sourced. And it was sort of the last straw.” Black and his deputy rushed to the director’s office to brief Tenet. All agreed an urgent meeting at the White House was needed. Tenet picked up the white phone to Bush’s National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. “I said, ‘Condi, I have to come see you,’” Tenet remembers. “It was one of the rare times in my seven years as director where I said, ‘I have to come see you. We’re comin’ right now. We have to get there.’”

        Tenet vividly recalls the White House meeting with Rice and her team. (George W. Bush was on a trip to Boston.) “Rich [Blee] started by saying, ‘There will be significant terrorist attacks against the United States in the coming weeks or months. The attacks will be spectacular. They may be multiple. Al Qaeda’s intention is the destruction of the United States.’” [Condi said:] ‘What do you think we need to do?’ Black responded by slamming his fist on the table, and saying, ‘We need to go on a wartime footing now!’”

        Read more: http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2015/11/cia-directors-documentary-911-bush-213353#ixzz3s4Fy3CnI

      • ubrew12 Says:

        Just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you 😉
        OK, I’m just speculating, but let me put it another way. I think the management of Exxon are basically good people. They work hard, do their job, and try to help their employees and shareholders alike. BUT: 30 years ago their own Scientists unequivocally proved to them that fossil fuel use would result in economic calamity through Global Warming. Yet they spent the subsequent 30 years preaching PRECISELY the opposite message to anyone who would listen. They’ve spent millions on climate denial through multiple venues: denial websites, direct lobbying of Congress, mainstream media messaging, and pro-business ‘brain trusts’. And that message, a message that may profit Exxon only in the short term has been largely successful in adoption by the wider society, which now experiences collective ‘cognitive dissonance’ as the consequences of 30 years of inaction become plain.

        I’ve got to ask: if this is what the GOOD GUYS have been doing, what are the BAD GUYS capable of? Your typical Russian fossil fuel oligarch didn’t get to his position by gathering flowers. HIS trail is littered with bodies already. Personally, given the incentive, its naive of YOU to think such people would not act forcefully to keep a multi-trillion-dollar gravy train rolling.

        • ubrew12 Says:

          Looking a bit more obviously, here’s a quote from this article: “Daesh [ISIS] has a mother: the invasion of Iraq. But it also has a father: Saudi Arabia and its religious-industrial complex. Until that point is understood, battles may be won, but the war will be lost.” And that is because today’s jihadists are “suckled in the bosom of Fatwa Valley, a kind of Islamist Vatican with a vast industry that produces theologians, religious laws, books, and aggressive editorial policies and media campaigns”

          So, of the $ millions that Saudi Arabia certainly gives to ISIS (under the table, of course), what do you suppose they want from all that cheddar? Come on. Now is your chance to prove just who is being naive here.

  3. So who’d been banned from COP21?
    – Greenpeace
    – Friends of the Earth
    – 350.org
    Who’s still invited?
    – Coal lobby
    – Oil lobby
    – Aviation industry
    That’s Climate Change fixed then.

  4. Thank you for sharing this perspective! Many of my friends from the cross-country climate march of last year are now in Europe, walking to Paris from Switzerland (the People’s Climate Pilgrimage) and Normandy (Walk to Paris for Climate Action). When news of the attack broke out, I was immediately concerned for their well-being, and relieved to hear they were well out of harm’s way. They have not been deterred in the slightest and are as determined as ever to make it and now must deepen the discussion. They already knew, we’ve known (!), that these would become peace talks.

    It makes sense that confrontational protests may not be the way to go as far as holding civil discourse and maintaining the basic social fabric we need to survive. A large, loud gathering would be prone to be misread at best, attacked at worse. The marchers and pilgrims are deeply considering their options. They are however, resolved that the people, not the corporate governments, have the final word.

    I take ubrew21’s warning to heart on this. There are powerfully myopic forces of greed and stupid inertia (business as usual) that are invested in seeing these negotiations fail. But, there are the more powerful traits of love and human resiliency in the face of adversity that, I believe, will prevail.

    Naomi Klein was prescient and clear with the title of her book, this does “change everything”.

  5. […] Why A Climate Conference is a Peace Conference | Climate Denial Crock of the Week […]

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