“Climate change and the future of security for the United States”
The Asia Institute
As I pen these words, I am tempted to double my dosage of anti-psychotic medication. After all, I wake up every morning to what seems to be a normal world. I have a cup of coffee with friends at Peet’s Coffee, I attend thoughtful seminars near K Street and then I read newspapers and books that describe what appears to be a normal and functional world. But when I go home at night and look at my email, all I see are dire reports about the death of the oceans, the rapidly increasing temperatures in Australia and the Artic, and the melting of the permafrost releasing carbon setting off a positive cycle that is anything but “positive.”
I am left scratching my head. Could it be that we face a security crisis on a scale unprecedented in human history and that, at the same time, the vast number of people who ride the Metro into Washington D.C. with me each morning, many of who work on “security,” are unable to conceive of a solution to this overwhelming crisis, and many of them treat the topic of global warming as a taboo subject not to be raised in polite company?
Part of the problem is that the shifts in our society, and in our civilization, that are necessary if we are to be able to identify climate change as the primary security threat for humanity, and respond, are so enormous that they overwhelm everyone. I include myself as one overwhelmed; I am not without sin and I am not qualified to cast the first stone.
But I will cast the first stone anyway.
Much of the battle against climate change has to do with values: frugality, conservation, and the pursuit of a spiritually meaningful life that does not compel us to use more than we absolutely need. We must return to that pre-consumer, pre-industrial, life. But we can only get there through the development of communities, by working with our hands. We will never get there with solar panels or smart cities.
The current threat of climate change cannot be responded with any specific technology or strategy. We must embrace the values of the Iroquois Nation. Like them, we must think about how our actions will impact those seven generations in the future. That shift in our culture, demanded by national security, will completely upend everything we have ever been taught about growth, development and success.
The essential question will be, If we are brave enough to march into battle, will we be brave enough to face the truth of climate change, and then speak about it with everyone.
What is the military’s role?
Although the primary response to climate change must start with a shift in our thinking and in our civilization, the military will be critical because we have so little time.
But if the military is to play a key role, that role cannot be simply a matter of fighter planes dropping seedlings, or infantry men planting trees when they are not training. No. We must have the bravery to completely transform the military, to change its very function. That step may be even harder for many than walking into battle.
Let me introduce a few rather controversial ideas that will help us to get thinking about this crisis.
Did I say that we do not have much time?
Remember that the US military as it stands today is one of the greatest polluters in the world, whether it is the emissions of fighter planes, aircraft carriers, and tanks, the dumps for toxic chemicals, or our contaminated bases around the world. The current situation is grim.
Moreover, the military is tasked with securing fossil fuels around the globe, thereby promoting our terminal addiction to petroleum, natural gas and coal.
It may sound odd to some, but seizing and protecting fossil fuels was not the intended role for the military.
Many have made the argument, especially on the left, that we should simply shut down the military, shut down all of those polluting weapons, close down all bases and then throw all that money at the mitigation of, and adaptation to, climate change.
That argument is not without merit if we consider the scale of the current climate crisis, which now threatens human extinction. Or, to be more precise, you may not be extinct, but you are going to wish you were.
But this argument misses two critical points.
First, the military is not going to simply disappear, fade away; its members will not give up all those jobs and those big budgets. There is a whole “ecosystem” of contractors, subcontractors and sub-sub-contractors who will literally fight to the death to keep their snouts in that wide and deep trough.
Therefore, the only meaningful way to focus those funds and that expertise on climate change is to transform the role of the military (which is possible) no to ask the military to disappear (we will go extinct before that happens).
If what we call the “military” was an organization that was committed to dealing directly with mitigation and adaptation regionally and globally, its budget would be just about right.
We have seen the first steps towards confronting climate change over the last ten years, especially in the Pacific Command (less so the Indo-Pacific Command) including large-scale projects to develop electric batteries, promote conservation and efficiency and to increase awareness of climate change. Some of those efforts continue today, in spite of fossil fuel interests controlling the executive branch. But the argument about climate change advanced in seminars on security and military issues in Washington D.C., is one for a limited concept of its impact.
Military experts talk about the impact of rising seas on US military bases, the implications of a changing environment for the conduct of military operations. The conclusion is that we will need to upgrade facilities around the world and plan carefully future bases and weapons systems so as to take into account climate change.
In addition, there is much discussion about how climate change acts as a multiplier, exacerbating conflicts over water, food, and other natural resources around the world. The nightmare scenarios sketched out by military planners echo the conflicts resulting from climate change limned by Christian Parenti in his landmark book Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence (2011).
The emerging consensus on the need for a transformation of the military is described by Michael Klare in his book All Hell Breaking Loose: The Pentagon’s Perspective on Climate Change. The awareness of the problem is broad, but the military paradigm remains unaltered. Klare notes that officers are “proceeding in their efforts to prepare for combat on a climate-altered planet” but the book offers no suggestion that the military has a plan to end climate change, or even reduce it.
The sad truth is that we have not even started the real conversation on climate change in the military. The assumption is that climate change will impact military actions but the same weapons will be used and the same sorts of conflicts will take place—only more frequently. The possibility that the very nature of security will be altered (that we must so completely reinvent the military and that weapons will no longer be the primary tool) is not even being considered.
But it is possible, even necessary, to imagine a complete transformation of the military whereby mitigation and adaptation become the primary role. The military should be transformed so that it is focused on the rapid restructuring of the US economy, under orders to make sure that the use of fossil fuels ends as quickly as possible and enforcing a reduction in consumption overall.
Or, might it be possible for the military to take the lead in bringing justice to our society and to our economy by rapidly transforming the very economic and industrial system that we rely on? Whereas much of the military does the bidding of fossil fuel corporations today, securing oil fields or natural gas wells, and protecting sheiks and their hangers on, enough bravery and imagination could make the opposite the case.
Or it could be that the military will be the part of the government which apprehends the owners of fossil fuel companies, the criminals who have conspired to promote dangerous substances like petroleum and coal, and then rendered us addicted to them for our daily lives in the manner of drug kingpins? Fossil fuel interests knew about the dangers to the atmosphere of emissions in the 1960s but hid those facts from the public. They paid (and still pay) phony “experts” to lie to Congress, and to the American people, about the dangers of those substances.
Such criminal offenses would mean, for you or for me, that our assets would be seized and we would be thrown in jail. If the Justice Department cannot find a way to prosecute and imprison those fossil fuel shareholders, perhaps the special forces can do so—much as John Brown set out to end a similar crime of cheap energy at a hidden human price: slavery. Once the military has those executives all in jail, and those ill-gotten wealth is directed towards recovery of the climate, once all their lobbyists and experts silenced, then, and only then, can we have a debate on climate policy.
There are tremendous dangers involved in unleashing of the military to solve things. We should not fool ourselves and we should also expect any miracles. However, we need to be realistic. We must brace for an extremely painful period when the willingness to risk one’s life is going to be a significant commodity.
We also do not have much of a choice.
The role of the military in American society will continue to increase, whether we like it or not. The legislative and the executive have become so corrupt, and so dysfunctional, the toys of the super-rich and multinational banks, that they are losing the ability to govern. The military is not untouched by this culture of decadence; vast sums are wasted on useless weapons systems and officers see their highest loyalty to be towards the military contractors who will offer them retirement packages. But many of those who actually run the military, as opposed to those who profit, are still capable of planning and governance.
We must to assume that the unprecedented military budget of $738 billion (plus much spending not disclosed) stipulated by the 2019 National Defensive Authorization Act will permanently alter the nature of governance in the United States, perhaps rendering the military the only part of the Federal government that is able to carry out its mission, in light of the ruthless cuts elsewhere.
In the long term, we create a healthier, and more peaceful, government that focuses on the needs of the people. But we will get nowhere if we do not first face the reality of increasing domestic and international chaos and the relative stability (and capacity for long-term planning) within the military.
There is another point to remember before we dismiss the military as a risk, a monster searching for wars to justify its budget.
There are parts of the military’s culture that will be essential to any meaningful response to climate change. Turning the tide in this battle against indulgence, greed and ruthless exploitation is going to take extreme bravery. Speaking the truth to power about climate change, mobilizing in the face of adversity, creating and implementing strategies, along with culture that will bind together groups of people committed to this project—these are tasks that a military is best capable of carrying out.
The dire situation for the climate will require that we transform the economy rapidly and completely. We need more than a functional government, which we do not have now. If we can get real leadership in place, the military could say that the country will not be using any more petroleum eight months from now, that all buildings will be fully insulated in a year, and then it can proceed to implement that order for the entire nation. The military, if completely revamped, if subject to a rigorous housecleaning, could set up a fifty-year plan for adaptation along the coasts to respond to rising oceans.
Only a militarized economy can undertake a transformation and scientists tell us that such a mobilization is necessary for human survival. It is, to be blunt, a no-brainer.
But we need to think very carefully about what a “militarized economy” means.
Let us consider what Jill Stein of the Green Party wrote when she introduced the original “Green New Deal” (since mimicked in a weaker form by the Democratic Party).
“Building on the concept of FDR’s New Deal, we call for a massive mobilization of our communities, government and the people on the scale of World War II – to transition our energy system and economy to 100% clean, renewable energy by 2030, including a complete phase out of fossil fuels, fracked gas and nuclear power.”
Think about the significance of what she proposes. When Stein writes of a “mobilization” that will be “on the scale of World War II” she is talking about a completely militarized economy.
If we look back to the source, to the New Deal implemented by Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the 1930s, we find an effort by the government to address, on a massive scale, the ecological, economic and institutional crises that seized the United States during Great Depression. During that period, a real government, capable of analysis, planning and implementation, replaced a complacent, do-nothing government that assumed, to quote Calvin Coolidge, that “the business of America is business.”
During that period, Frances Perkins built within the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) a powerful organization capable of engaging and inspiring the unemployed to address critical issues in agriculture, ecology and energy in a systematic and comprehensive manner. It was a government that could transform, rather that passively respond to situations.
Similarly, the NRA (national recovery administration) was established in 1933 to set prices and to enforce fair practices so as to eliminate “destructive competition” and overproduction—thus reducing many of the market forces that had brought on the depression in the first place.
What is often left out of the story is the degree to which the CCC and NRA were modelled on the policies for economic and industrial mobilization undertaken by Woodrow Wilson during World War I. The New Deal was, in effect, a military economy that was not for war, but focused on resolving ecological catastrophes like the Dustbowl and economic challenges like overproduction and unemployment.
The crisis today is much larger, and much more serious, than was the case during Great Depression.
We must also recognize the fact that climate change cannot be stopped by the protests of a few NGOs. We need a nation-wide campaign that reaches down to every citizen and promotes frugality, awareness of climate change and a concern for the environment. We must go door to door and make sure that everyone is 100% renewable by next week—and to offer them the means. If an NGO was capable of doing that, in a few weeks, for the entire country, it would be in effect a government.
We must create a functional government that can set these priorities for the nation and then implement them unimpeded.
Let us turn to two critical speeches by American presidents that can help us to grasp the significance of this moment.
The first speech is President Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address of March 4,1865, which is engraved on the marble walls of the Lincoln Memorial. Lincoln put forth, with considerable bravery, a vision for the United States that moved beyond the cruel system of creating cheap energy by the use of slavery. Lincoln spoke of the necessary sacrifice in the speech, perhaps anticipating his own death as a result of this commitment to the end of slavery.
One thing is clear. Lincoln did not believe that the transformation of American culture, economics and society necessary to end slavery could be carried out by NGOs, advertising campaigns or appeals for corporate social responsibility. Lincoln saw government as key to such a massive change and the military, sadly, tragically, ended up as part of that process. Slavery was not abolished in a congressional subcommittee. It was ended by the brutal Wilderness Campaign.
When Lincoln spoke, he did not try to hide the cruel truth from his audience,
“Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said ‘the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.’”
In the decadent political culture that infests Washington D.C. today, it is hard to imagine a president saying anything so profound, or so difficult, to the citizens. Lincoln did not aim to please, or to flatter. He spoke so as to compel by moral means, to challenge intellectually, to inspire to reach for a higher truth.
The second speech is President Jimmy Carter’s “Moral Equivalent of War” speech of April 18, 1977. Carter pushed for a radical reduction in the consumption of fossil fuels in the United States and he postulated that the government would play a central role in the process. Carter was focused on ending our growing dependency on imported oil, rather than the threat of global warming (which was not well understood at the time).
Carter’s speech was the last great effort to imagine a government capable of transforming society, rather than being toyed with by powerful interests.
Speech is even more relevant to us today.
“By acting now, we can control our future instead of letting the future control us. Two days from now, I will present my energy proposals to the Congress. Its members will be my partners and they have already given me a great deal of valuable advice. Many of these proposals will be unpopular. Some will cause you to put up with inconveniences and to make sacrifices.”
Carter’s speech should have been the turning point for the United States. But we were lulled to sleep by our good fortune, seduced by our comfortable lives.
No one wanted to hear about sacrifices then.
But sacrifice will be the name of the game from here on out. We will not avoid multiple massive catastrophes, at home and abroad. We will need a society in which citizens are willing to sacrifice for each other and work together for a common, difficult, goal.
If we can articulate a larger plan, as Lincoln did, and Carter did, we can give meaning to the upcoming struggle and we can thus create a space wherein a moral vision is expressed even in the midst of crushing ambivalence.
If we can take that step forward, we will be on the road to addressing the climate catastrophe and mapping out a solution, though it take a hundred years.
The military will have to be at the center, but it will not be pushing crackpot geoengineering projects that are meant to further enrich the enriched rich, but rather by dedicating itself once again to sacrifice, to the defense of the national interest, and the interests of the citizens. Taking on climate change as its primary goal is the best, and perhaps only, way to do so. That decision will allow us to establish a government for the United States of the people, for the people and by the people.
(talk delivered at seminar “The Intersection of Climate Change and Security” held on December 12, 2019 in Washington D.C. by the Asia Institute & Foreign Policy in Focus)
Larry Wilkerson Distinguished Adjunct Professor of Government and Public Policy, Department of Government William & Mary College Alice Hill Senior fellow for climate change policy Council on Foreign Relations
The world faces two grave threats: nuclear war and climate change. The Trump administration has ended four decades of U.S. efforts to reduce the threat of nuclear war, withdrawing from the INF Treaty and preparing to deploy nuclear weapons around the world. At the same time, it denies the existence of climate change and supports leaders around the world who are laying waste to the environment.
But another security policy is possible, and necessary, right now. This seminar sponsored by the Asia Institute and Foreign Policy in Focus, explored how the US could seize the initiative on arms control and link it to a global rethinking of security in light of climate change.
Hard to imagine that there was a Federal organization dedicated to helping ordinary citizens and rebuilding the economy that was empowered to tell corporations what to do. But believe it. It happened before and it could happen again. It is, to use an Americanism, “as American as apple pie.”
The Asia Institute, a major think tank with offices in Seoul, Tokyo, Hanoi and Washington D.C., is looking for interns to assist the director, Emanuel Pastreich, to organize events, market, develop outreach programs, and conduct research in Washington D.C.
Undergraduate or graduate students with a strong interest in China, Japan and or Korea, international relations, technology and society or climate change are encouraged to apply for this opportunity to work directly with Professor Pastreich as an intern. Many of our previous interns have gone on to play critical roles in international relations.
The internship is unpaid but offers a unique opportunity to work in a unique research institute committed to ethical governance and the scientific analysis of contemporary issues.
The response to the increasing awareness of the threat of continuing a fossil-fuel driven growth and consumption economic model is a ruthless effort to block out serious reporting on climate change in the media and to downplay is seriousness in education and in the policy debate.
It is inspiring to see youth take leadership roles in the struggle to address climate change, but we have not even started to transform our economy, let alone our civilization.
Sadly, even the most committed climate activists, even those willing to risk prison time, or bodily injury, still find themselves washing with warm water heated by coal or natural gas, eating vegetables that were shipped on diesel-powered cargo ships, transported on trucks powered by diesel fuel, and wrapped in plastics derived from petroleum.
The components in the computers and cell phones that activists use to coordinate their protests, or to write articles about climate change, were produced using coal and other noxious chemicals at factories in India, China or Thailand. The electricity that powers the internet connecting them with fellow activists is equally unclean.
For that matter, the academics who conduct research on the climate change’s impact on our future have their retirement funds tied up in the stocks of companies with direct, or indirect, ties to fossil fuel profits (links that are often not disclosed).
We face the contradiction, of using disposable felt pens made of plastic in factories powered by coal in Malaysia, and transported by petroleum-fueled trucks and airplanes, to write protest signs condemning the fossil fuel industry.
Protest draw attention to hidden truths, but when the marches are over, we return home to a nightmare world that offers no escape from the fossil fuels. We have the choice to eat meat, or not, but there is no option to reject this industrial economy run in accord with the bankrupt ideology of consumption and growth.
But if there were a choice, even if the scale was small at the beginning, the nature of the protest could be expanded so that all our actions, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, became a part of it.
If citizens of the Earth had the opportunity to be a member of an economic system that had absolutely no ties to fossil fuels, or to the money generated by them, then every single action of ethical citizens, from brushing their teeth in the morning to turning out the light in bed at night, would be a form of protest.
Such communities would open the gate to an alternative economy, as opposed to a bit of greenery in the middle of an extractive and predatory economic order.
The next step of our protest must be the creation of local communities, linked together as part of global networks, whose economies are in word and deed 100% fossil-fuel free (FFF). Creating such economic, social and political units at the local level, even if they can only support 100 people, or 500 people at first, will offer the public a viable alternative. Those fossil-fuel free FFF communities will make it possible for those with a deep ethical sense to fully commit to a fossil fuel free Earth in word and in deed—not just “recycling” plastic at the supermarket, but never touching plastic again.
Moreover, the first steps towards FFF (fossil fuel free) communities can be taken immediately. There is no need to wait for some cynical politician to implement a carbon-neutral economy twenty or thirty years in the future.
Creating FFF Communities
Creating FFF (fossil fuel free) communities will require considerable bravery and sacrifice at first, and the number willing to commit will be limited. But we have that critical mass already. Remember, because 100% FFF (fossil-fuel free) communities will not be dependent for food, for energy or for finance on corporations, or banks tied to fossil fuels in any way, they will be able to speak freely in a manner that communities cannot today. Their power will be far greater than their initial scale would suggest.
Such will be a model for other communities around the world, and they will produce journalism and educational systems that others cannot because their dependency on funding linked to fossil fuels compromises their efforts from the start.
It will not be long before small-scale FFF communities will become powerful economic and political players capable of taking on multinational investment banks and oil companies and can offer a vision for an immediate and unconditional end to the use of fossil fuels-rather of a vague and open-ended plan to phase out fossil fuels in a manner that does not impact profits.
Scientific data shows that the date given in reports of governments and corporations of 2050 for the creation of a carbon-neutral economy is laughably late. Many experts write that we have only a matter of years, or months, to avoid a scenario in which billions of humans (and other species) will die, whether from floods and storms, from rising seas, spreading deserts, from starvation, and unbearable heat, or from hybrid wars waged for control of remaining scarce resources.
Although the main-stream media covers protests and declarations by governments of a climate emergency, there has been zero change for the majority. You may see a solar panel go up on an occasional house, but there are few laws even being considered (let alone being enforced) that require all food be locally and organically produced, all buildings be fully insulated and equipped with solar and wind power, and all transportation to powered by 100% renewable energy.
We must gather together a small group of people who will pledge to support the community, and each other, for the long term, and to rely for their needs exclusively on the FFF products produced by the community at the local level (until 100% FFF transportation systems are established). If we have activists who are willing to be arrested, we can find among them those who are willing to make a commitment to a FFF community.
Such a commitment must be a serious one. There must be a binding contract that commits new members to the community and commits the community to those members. FFF communities cannot operate in accord with the superficial culture of consumption, distraction and short-term thinking that got us in this trouble in the first place.
Perhaps new members of the community will commit their assets to the FFF community in return for a commitment from the community to care for them for a lifetime. Or some other form of deep social and ethical commitment is possible.
he fossil-fuel free community will provide a model, first on a small scale, for what human society could be if we embrace a consistently sustainable approach. We have few models now—and that is no accident.
The core of the economy of the FFF community will be organic farms that produce 100% organic food and transport it without the use of fossil fuels. At the beginning, citizens of the communities will encounter a significant drop in the diversity of their diet, but through their efforts and sacrifices, they will lay the foundations for a truly fossil fuel free economy. The food will be grown at home, on roofs and in empty lots in the neighborhood, or be brought in from local farms.
A revolution in thinking is essential: we must recognize that working together with neighbors to create a society free of fossil fuels is at least as important as writing articles for newspapers, lobbying the rich and powerful or giving (fossil-fuel tainted) money to environmental NGOs. The struggle to create a community free of fossil fuels in the full sense (no plastics, no products produced using fossil fuels, no products transported using fossil fuels) can be the defining effort for those who are involved.
Food should be sold (or exchanged through barter) in communal markets that encourage collaboration between farmer and citizen (rather than a transaction between a corporation and consumer). Those markets can serve as the foundation for new patterns of economic exchange entirely detached from fossil fuels and they can be expanded across the region, and then around the world. There is nothing radical about such organic farming communities. They are how humans managed to survive for thousands of years without destroying the climate.
We can find models in the communities of the Amish and the Mennonites. Although we grew up considering these groups who far, without machinery or artificial fertilizers as odd, they alone have pursued a sustainable economy while the rest of the United States embraced an insane system of industrialized agricultural production tied to global trade.
Organic farming for the immediate community will provide youth real jobs in agriculture and distribution that will be both paid and morally dignified. The ability to create food which is not contributing to the destruction of our Earth is a moral action that can inspire many to join in the effort.
The creation of fossil-fuel free (FFF) transportation for food and other goods is the other critical condition for such communities. Our citizens must understand that vowing to use only FFF transportation offered, even if it is profoundly limited at first, must not be viewed as unpleasant inconvenience, but rather as a pledge of moral bravery. We cannot wait for politicians to provide such “clean” energy (as politicians are easily persuaded to consider natural gas, electricity and even nuclear power to be clean).
Another critical part of the FFF community will be manufacturing. We must completely rethink manufacturing: the production of, and the use of, the necessary items for life. We must ask first how we will produce all the items we use without ever employing fossil fuels or plastic. At the same time, we must definitively end the promotion of, and consumption of, frivolous and status-related products.
Manufacturing for the FFF community should start out 100% local (until we have 100% FFF transportation we can use to link communities in the region, and across the world).
Eliminating fossil fuels means that we must cut back on how we use daily and we must manufacture items that will last for a long time. We need desks and chairs, bookshelves and chopping boards, shirts and sweaters, cups and pots that will last for 20-50 years, or longer. That shift in our economy means both an end to a commercial, consumption-driven culture and a focus on well-made products that are built to last, and that are valued for what they are, not what images they are associated with. No IKEA or GAP will be found in FFF communities.
The production and the distribution of 100% fossil fuel free products will create long-term jobs for our children and for our neighbors’ children. Manufacturing must be local and the return of crafts that produce durable goods will contribute much to our environment. We must move away from the dangerous concepts of competitiveness, free trade and industrialization. The misguided concept of growth must go also.
Changing culture, concepts, and attitudes
Fossil-Fuel Free Communities must be free of fossil fuel propaganda and the ideological assumptions planted by corporations that we cannot live meaningful lives without consuming large amounts of energy, seen or unseen. The response to climate change starts with an attitudinal revolution, not with progressive innovations in technology and governance. The FFF community must be a space wherein such a cultural transformation can take place without commercials that promote automobiles and the thoughtless consumption of food.
Not only must all citizens comprehend that climate change is an immediate and overwhelming threat in the community, we must create a culture wherein the practices required to respond, whether shoveling mulch, recycling glass and scrap metal, collecting human feces for use as fertilizer transporting food by cart, or generating electricity on an exercise bike (which is also good exercise) are perceived as an ethical imperative, as the valuable contribution to society. The cult of the self and immediate gratification promoted by a commercialized economy must be replaced by a culture based on moral philosophy, frugality, humility and the simple virtue of participation in society.
This shift is not entirely “progressive.” In a sense it is also a return to conservative values like modesty, frugality, and the importance of intellectual and spiritual engagement. The larger these communities become the more powerful will be this alternative to the commercial culture that dominates globally. We must unmask the false assumptions promoted by the insidious ideology of modernity that the human condition is improved by electrification, consumption, a vast increase in possessions, urbanization and transportation via private automobiles and airplanes. Unless we challenge the larger ideological framework, we cannot bring about the fundamental shift we require for survival.
Going green must not be limited to cosmetic changes in an economy that is based on the consumption of goods and services and that is rooted in the production and distribution of those fossil fuels.
We must make visible the hidden hierarchy behind the myth of modernity, one that is hammered home for all citizens in the movies (and in the commercials that come before and after them) and in news reports that we watch. The insidious assumption is that those who employ I Phones and who work multinational corporations, those who are shuttled around from capital to capital around the world in expensive automobiles, or luxurious planes, those who live in spacious homes and eat fine meals, are somehow doing more important work than those who transport goods, who clean our public spaces, who grow our food and cook our meals.
The criminal waste of resources, the pollution of our environment by fossil fuels and the concentration of wealth in a tiny handful of people is presented in the commercial media as a moral good.
The FFF community also must undertake a complete reform of the misleading concepts of real estate, private property and ownership that have done so much damage. Our society is controlled by contract law and corporate law which citizens are made completely ignorant of by the media. But we have no binding contracts between members of our community to help each other, or to preserve the ecosystem. The FFF community will be the complete opposite.
A pledge of loyalty by those joining the FFF community to end their ties to fossil fuels should be central to membership. We need the equivalent of a village contract, once central to agricultural communities in Europe, Asia, the Americas before the promulgation of the concept of real estate and the concentration of capital in the hands of the few. Such a village contract should spell out in a binding, rather than symbolic, the manner the responsibilities that each individual has to contribute to the production of food, tools, furniture, transportation and governance, and the commitment of the community to provide for the members of the community for a lifetime.
Reviving the Constitution of the Iroquois Nations, which made the relationship of human settlements with the environment central to governance, can be help us to overcome the legal distortions born of a focus on finance, property rights and real estate.
Currently, it is perfectly acceptable for progressives to participate in protests about climate change while investing their assets in companies making profits related to fossil fuels. We must demand zero tolerance and make sure all investment is tied of the community’s activities and tied to the creation of a FFF economy.
Membership in a fossil-fuel free community must be open to everyone and not segregated in accord with assets, level of education or cultural sensitivities. We must abandon the delusion that somehow a green economy focused on the upper middle class, those who can afford Teslas or big layouts for solar panels, will save humanity. Everyone should have access to information about the climate crisis as part of their education and of the media which surrounds them.
It is as critical that we explain the climate crisis to the poor and to the working class in terms that they can understand and to make a commitment to help them obtain quality educations, and economic opportunities, in return for their participation in the response. Addressing climate change by gala dinners, handouts from billionaires, and other stunts cannot effect a transformation of our society.
The establishment of our own FFF currency can be immensely helpful in this process. Our currency will represent the contribution of the individual to society and be backed by agricultural products, and other manufactured goods, produced in the community. That currency, even if extremely limited in its use at first, will have tremendous value for us in that it will not be linked to fossil fuels at any level. That means that as that FFF currency expands its use across the local economy, and eventually extends to the global economy, it can serve as currency without any links to fossil fuels, and the core of a similarly independent financial system.
The greatest travesty of our age is the silence about the link between global trade and climate change. Shipping goods across the Earth in the search of financial advantages for investment banks does tremendous damage to the environment because of pointless carbon emissions and the destruction of forests and jungles to produce factory farms and just plain factories in the eternal search for profit at the expense of nature. The inhuman mass production of foodstuffs (especially of meat) that is pushed in global trade does long-term damage to soil, forests and rivers and oceans. Moreover, the industrial approach to production and distribution of food and products has destroyed local economies and encouraged an unprecedented concentration of wealth. Fossil-fuel free communities offer the citizen a way to opt out of this destructive nightmare for the first time.
We witness a battle in the media, and in discussion groups, between those who argue that we must focus on changing our habits and our thinking first as a means of saving our Earth and those who hold that because most emissions can be traced back to a handful of multinational corporations we must first deal with them first, rather than allowing us to naively assume that because our own lives have less of a carbon footprint we are saving the world.
Although there is a danger that we can be distracted from the deep contradictions in our economy if we become overly myopic in our pursuit of personal sustainability that should not lead us to underestimate the importance of changing how we act daily. As the number of people out there increase who will not compromise on certain principles, we will start to shift the global culture and that culture will radiate up even to the most protected elites deeply imbedded in the fossil fuel economy.
That said, the best route is to combine the two strategies: to make personal choices into community choices and to make that community into an economic unit which will serve as the building block for an alternative economy from the ground up.
I have only 30 minutes in which to speak to you this evening, and I, therefore, will not be able to discuss in detail so much as I can write when I have all of the time and space that is allowed me for the subjects, but I will undertake to sketch them very briefly without manuscript or preparation, so that you can understand them so well as I can tell them to you tonight.
I contend, my friends, that we have no difficult problem to solve in America, and that is the view of nearly everyone with whom I have discussed the matter here in Washington and elsewhere throughout the United States—that we have no very difficult problem to solve.
It is not the difficulty of the problem which we have; it is the fact that the rich people of this country—and by rich people I mean the super-rich—will not allow us to solve the problems, or rather the one little problem that is afflicting this country, because in order to cure all of our woes it is necessary to scale down the big fortunes, that we may scatter the wealth to be shared by all of the people.
We have a marvelous love for this Government of ours; in fact, it is almost a religion, and it is well that it should be, because we have a splendid form of government and we have a splendid set of laws. We have everything here that we need, except that we have neglected the fundamentals upon which the American Government was principally predicated.
How many of you remember the first thing that the Declaration of Independence said? It said: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that there are certain inalienable rights for the people, and among them are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness;” and it said further, “We hold the view that all men are created equal.”
Now, what did they mean by that? Did they mean, my friends, to say that all men are created equal and that that meant that any one man was born to inherit $10,000,000,000 and that another child was to be born to inherit nothing?
Did that mean, my friends, that someone would come into this world without having had an opportunity, of course, to have hit one lick of work, should be born with more than it and all of its children and children’s children could ever dispose of, but that another one would have to be born into a life of starvation?
That was not the meaning of the Declaration of Independence when it said that all men are created equal or “That we hold that all men are created equal.”
Nor was it the meaning of the Declaration of Independence when it said that they held that there were certain rights that were inalienable—the right of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Is that right of life, my friends, when the young children of this country are being reared into a sphere which is more owned by 12 men than it by 120,000,000 people?
Is that, my friends, giving them a fair shake of the dice or anything like the inalienable right of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, or anything resembling the fact that all people are created equal; when we have today in America thousands and hundreds of thousands and millions of children on the verge of starvation in a land that is overflowing with too much to eat and too much to wear?
I do not think you will contend that, and I do not think for a moment that they will contend it.
Now let us see if we cannot return this Government to the Declaration of Independence and see if we are going to do anything regarding it. Why should we hesitate or why should we quibble or why should we quarrel with one another to find out what the difficulty is, when we know that the Lord told us what the difficulty is, and Moses wrote it out so a blind man could see it, then Jesus told us all about it, and it was later written in the Book of James, where everyone could read it?
I refer to the Scriptures, now, my friends, and give you what it says not for the purpose of convincing you of the wisdom of myself, not for the purpose, ladies and gentlemen, of convincing you of the fact that I am quoting the Scriptures means that I am to be more believed than someone else; but I quote you the Scripture, or rather refer you to the Scripture, because whatever you see there you may rely upon will never be disproved so long as you or your children or anyone may live; and you may further depend upon the fact that not one historical fact that the Bible has ever contained has ever yet been disproved by any scientific discovery or by reason of anything that has been disclosed to man through his own individual mind or through the wisdom of the Lord which the Lord has allowed him to have.
But the Scripture says, ladies and gentlemen, that no country can survive, or for a country to survive it is necessary that we keep the wealth scattered among the people, that nothing should keep the wealth scattered among the people, that nothing should be held permanently by any one person, and that 50 years seems to be the year of jubilee in which all property would be scattered about and returned to the sources from which it originally came, and every seventh year debt should be remitted.
Those two things the Almighty said to be necessary—I should say He knew to be necessary, or else He would not have so prescribed that the property would be kept among the general run of the people, and that everyone would continue to share in it; so that no one man would get half of it and hand it down to a son, who takes half of what was left, and that son hand it down to another one, who would take half of what was left, until, like a snowball going downhill, all of the snow was off of the ground except what the snowball had.
I believe that was the judgment and the view and the law of the Lord, that we would have to distribute wealth ever so often, in order that there could not be people starving to death in a land of plenty, as there is in America today.
We have in America today more wealth, more goods, more food, more clothing, more houses than we have ever had. We have everything in abundance here.
We have the farm problem, my friends, because we have too much cotton, because we have too much wheat, and have too much corn, and too much potatoes.
We have a home loan problem, because we have too many houses, and yet nobody can buy them and live in them.
We have trouble, my friends, in the country, because we have too much money owing, the greatest indebtedness that has ever been given to civilization, where it has been shown that we are incapable of distributing the actual things that are here, because the people have not money enough to supply themselves with them, and because the greed of a few men is such that they think it is necessary that they own everything, and their pleasure consists in the starvation of the masses, and in their possessing things they cannot use, and their children cannot use, but who bask in the splendor of sunlight and wealth, casting darkness and despair and impressing it on everyone else.
“So, therefore,” said the Lord in effect, “if you see these things that now have occurred and exist in this and other countries, there must be a constant scattering of wealth in any country if this country is to survive.”
“Then,” said the Lord, in effect, “every seventh year there shall be a remission of debts; there will be no debts after 7 years.” That was the law.
Now, let us take America today. We have in America today, ladies and gentlemen, $272,000,000,000 of debt. Two hundred and seventy-two thousand millions of dollars of debts are owed by the various people of this country today. Why, my friends, that cannot be paid. It is not possible for that kind of debt to be paid.
The entire currency of the United States is only $6,000,000,000. That is all of the money that we have got in America today. All the actual money you have got in all of your banks, all that you have got in the Government Treasury, is $6,000,000,000; and if you took all that money and paid it out today you would still owe $266,000,000,000; and if you took all that money and paid again you would still owe $260,000,000,000; and if you took it, my friends, 20 times and paid it you would still owe $150,000,000,000.
You would have to have 45 times the entire money supply of the United States today to pay the debts of the people of America and then they would just have to start out from scratch, without a dime to go on with.
So, my friends, it is impossible to pay all of these debts, and you might as well find out that it cannot be done. The United States Supreme Court has definitely found out that it could not be done, because, in a Minnesota case, it held that when a State has postponed the evil day of collecting a debt it was a valid and constitutional exercise of legislative power.
Now, ladies and gentlemen, if I may proceed to give you some other words that I think you can understand—I am not going to belabor you by quoting tonight—I am going to tell you what the wise men of all ages and all times, down even to the present day, have all said: That you must keep the wealth of the country scattered, and you must limit the amount that any one man can own. You cannot let any man own §300,000,000,000 or $400,000,000,000. If you do, one man can own all of the wealth that the United States has in it.
Now, my friends, if you were off on an island where there were 100 lunches, you could not let one man eat up the hundred lunches, or take the hundred lunches and not let anybody else eat any of them. If you did, there would not be anything else for the balance of the people to consume.
So, we have in America today, my friends, a condition by which about 10 men dominate the means of activity in at least 85 percent of the activities that you own. They either own directly everything or they have got some kind of mortgage on it, with a very small percentage to be excepted. They own the banks, they own the steel mills, they own the railroads, they own the bonds, they own the mortgages, they own the stores, and they have chained the country from one end to the other until there is not any kind of business that a small, independent man could go into today and make a living, and there is not any kind of business that an independent man can go into and make any money to buy an automobile with; and they have finally and gradually and steadily eliminated everybody from the fields in which there is a living to be made, and still they have got little enough sense to think they ought to be able to get more business out of it anyway.
If you reduce a man to the point where he is starving to death and bleeding and dying, how do you expect that man to get hold of any money to spend with you? It is not possible.
Then, ladies and gentlemen, how do you expect people to live, when the wherewith cannot be had by the people?
In the beginning I quoted from the Scriptures. I hope you will understand that I am not quoting Scripture to you to convince you of my goodness personally, because that is a thing between me and my Maker; that is something as to how I stand with my Maker and as to how you stand with your Maker. That is not concerned with this issue, except and unless there are those of you who would be so good as to pray for the souls of some of UK. Rut the Lord gave His law, and in the Book of James they said so, that the rich should weep and howl for the miseries that had come upon them; and, therefore, it was written that when the rich hold goods they could not use and could not consume, you will inflict punishment on them, and nothing but days of woe ahead of them.
Then we have heard of the great Greek philosopher, Socrates, and the greater Greek philosopher, Plato, and we have read the dialogue between Plato and Socrates, in which one said that great riches brought on great poverty, and would be destructive of a country. Read what they said. Read what Plato said; that you must not let any one man be too poor, and you must not let any one man be too rich; that the same mill that grinds out the extra rich is the mill that will grind out the extra poor, because, in order that the extra rich can become so affluent, they must necessarily take more of what ordinarily would belong to the average man.
It is a very simple process of mathematics that you do not have to study, and that no one is going to discuss with you.
So that was the view of Socrates and Plato. That was the view of the English statesmen. That was the view of American statesmen. That was the view of American statesmen like Daniel Webster, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, William Jennings Bryan, and Theodore Roosevelt, and even as late as Herbert Hoover and Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Both of these men, Mr. Hoover and Mr. Roosevelt, came out and said there had to be a decentralization of wealth, but neither one of them did anything about it. But, nevertheless, they recognized the principle. The fact that neither one of them ever did anything about it is their own problem that I am not undertaking to criticize; but had Mr. Hoover carried out what he says ought to be done, he would be retiring from the President’s office, very probably, 8 years from now, instead of 1 year ago; and had Mr. Roosevelt proceeded along the lines that he stated were necessary for the decentralization of wealth, he would have gone, my friends, a long way already, and within a few months he would have probably reached a solution of all of the problems that afflict this country today.
But I wish to warn you now that nothing that has been done up to this date has taken one dime away from these big fortune-holders; they own just as much as they did, and probably a little bit more; they hold just as many of the debts of the common people as they ever held, and probably a little bit more; and unless we, my friends, are going to give the people of this country a fair shake of the dice, by which they will all get something out of the funds of this land, there is not a chance on the topside of this God’s eternal earth by which we can rescue this country and rescue the people of this country.
It is necessary to save the government of the country, but is much more necessary to save the people of America. We love this country. We love this Government. It is a religion, I say. It is a kind of religion people have read of when women, in the name of religion, would take their infant babes and throw them into the burning flame, where they would be instantly devoured by the all-consuming fire, in days gone by; and there probably are some people of the world even today, who, in the name of religion, throw their own babes to destruction; but in the name of our good government, people today are seeing their own children hungry, tired, half-naked, lifting their tear-dimmed eyes into the sad faces of their fathers and mothers, who cannot give them food and clothing they both need, and which is necessary to sustain them, and that goes on day after day, and night after night, when day gets into darkness and blackness, knowing those children would arise in the morning without being fed, and probably go to bed at night without being fed.
Yet in the name of our Government, and all alone, those people undertake and strive as hard as they can to keep a good government alive, and how long they can stand that no one knows. If I were in their place tonight, the place where millions are, I hope that I would have what I might say—I cannot give you the word to express the kind of fortitude they have; that is the word—I hope that I might have the fortitude to praise and honor my Government that had allowed me here in this land, where there is too much to eat and too much to wear, to starve in order that a handful of men can have so much more than they can ever eat or they can ever wear.
Now, we have organized a society, and we call it “Share Our Wealth Society,” a society with the motto “Every Man a King.”
Every man a king, so there would be no such thing as a man or woman who did not have the necessities of life, who would not be dependent upon the whims and caprices and ipsi dixit of the financial barons for a living. What do we propose by this society? We propose to limit the wealth of big men in the country. There is an average of $15,000 in wealth to every family in America. That is right here today.
We do not propose to divide it up equally. We do not propose a division of wealth, but we propose to limit poverty that we will allow to be inflicted upon any man’s family. We will not say we are going to try to guarantee any equality, or $15,000 to a family. No; but we do say that one third of the average is low enough for any one family to hold, that there should be a guarantee of a family wealth of around $5,000; enough for a home, an automobile, a radio, and the ordinary conveniences, and the opportunity to educate their children; a fair share of the income of this land thereafter to that family so there will be no such thing as merely the select to have those things, and so there will be no such thing as a family living in poverty and distress.
We have to limit fortunes. Our present plan is that we will allow no one man to own more that $50,000,000. We think that with that limit we will be able to carry out the balance of the program. It may be necessary that we limit it to less than $50,000,000. It may be necessary, in working out of the plans that no man’s fortune would be more than $10,000,000 or $15,000,000. But be that as it may, it will still be more than any one man, or any one man and his children and their children, will be able to spend in their lifetimes; and it is not necessary or reasonable to have wealth piled up beyond that point where we cannot prevent poverty among the masses.
Another thing we propose is old-age pension of $30 a month for everyone that is 60 years old. Now, we do not give this pension to a man making $1,000 a year, and we do not give it to him if he has $10,000 in property, but outside of that we do.
We will limit hours of work. There is not any necessity of having overproduction. I think all you have got to do, ladies and gentlemen, is just limit the hours of work to such an extent as people will work only so long as it is necessary to produce enough for all of the people to have what they need. Why, ladies and gentlemen, let us say that all of these labor-saving devices reduce hours down to where you do not have to work but 4 hours a day; that is enough for these people, and then praise be the name of the Lord, if it gets that good. Let it be good and not a curse, and then we will have 5 hours a day and 5 days a week-, or even less than that, and we might give a man a whole month off during a year, or give him 2 months; and we might do what other countries have seen fit to do, and what I did in Louisiana, by having schools by which adults could go back and learn the things that have been discovered since they went to school.
We will not have any trouble taking care of the agricultural situation. All you have to do is balance your production with your consumption. You simply have to abandon a particular crop that you have too much of, and all you have to do is store the surplus for the next year, and the Government will take it over.
When you have good crops in the area in which the crops that have been planted are sufficient for another year, put in your public works in the particular year when you do not need to raise any more, and by that means you get everybody employed. When the Government has enough of any particular crop to take care of all of the people, that will be all that is necessary; and in order to do all of this, our taxation is going to be to take the billion-dollar fortunes and strip them down to frying size, not to exceed $50,000,000, and if it is necessary to come to $10,000,000, we will come to $10,000,000. We have worked the proposition out to guarantee a limit upon property (and no man will own less than one-third the average), and guarantee a reduction of fortunes and a reduction of hours to spread wealth throughout this country. We would care for the old people above 60 and take them away from this thriving industry and give them a chance to enjoy the necessities and live in ease, and thereby lift from the market the labor which would probably create a surplus of commodities.
Those are the things we propose to do. “Every Man a King.” Every man to eat when there is something to eat; all to wear something when there is something to wear. That makes us all a sovereign.
You cannot solve these things through these various and sundry alphabetical codes. You can have the N. R. A. and P. W. A. and C. W. A. and the U. U. G. and G. I. N. and any other kind of dad-gummed lettered code. You can wait until doomsday and see 25 more alphabets, but that is not going to solve this proposition. Why hide? Why quibble? You know what the trouble is. The man that says he does not know what the trouble is is just hiding his face to keep from seeing the sunlight.
God told you what the trouble was. The philosophers told you what the trouble was; and when you have a country where one man owns more than 100,000 people, or a million people, and when you have a country where there are four men, as in America, that have got more control over things than all the 120,000,000 people together, you know what the trouble is.
We had these great incomes in this country; but the farmer, who plowed from sunup to sundown, who labored here from sunup to sundown for 6 days a week, wound up at the end of the time with practically nothing.
And we ought to take care of the veterans of the wars in this program. That is a small matter. Suppose it does cost a billion dollars a year—that means that the money will be scattered throughout this country. We ought to pay them a bonus. We can do it. We ought to take care of every single one of the sick and disabled veterans. I do not care whether a man got sick on the battlefield or did not; every man that wore the uniform of this country is entitled to be taken care of, and there is money enough to do it; and we need to spread the wealth of the country, which you did not do in what you call the N. R. A.
If the N. R. A. has done any good, I can put it all in my eye without having it hurt. All I can see that the N. R. A. has done is to put the little man out of business—the little merchant in his store, the little Italian that is running a fruit stand, or the Greek shoe-shining stand, who has to take hold of a code of 275 pages and study it with a spirit level and compass and looking-glass; he has to hire a Philadelphia lawyer to tell him what is in the code; and by the time he learns what the code is, he is in jail or out of business; and they have got a chain code system that has already put him out of business. The N. R. A. is not worth anything, and I said so when they put it through.
Now, my friends, we have got to hit the root with the ax. Centralized power in the hands of a few, with centralized credit in the hands of a few, is the trouble.
Get together in your community tonight or tomorrow and organize one of our Share Our Wealth Societies. If you do not understand it, write me and let me send you the platform; let me give you the proof of it.
This is Huey P. Long talking, United States Senator, Washington, D. C. Write me and let me send you the data on this proposition. Enroll with us. Let us make known to the people what we are going to do. I will send you a button, if I have got enough of them left. We have got a little button that some of our friends designed, with our message around the rim of the button, and in the center “Every Man a King.” Many thousands of them are meeting through the United States, and every day we are getting hundreds and hundreds of letters. Share Our Wealth Societies are now being organized, and people have it within their power to relieve themselves from this terrible situation.
Look at what the Mayo brothers announced this week, these greatest scientists of all the world today, who are entitled to have more money than all the Morgans and the Rockefellers, or anyone else, and yet the Mayos turn back their big fortunes to be used for treating the sick, and said they did not want to lay up fortunes in this earth, but wanted to turn them back where they would do some good; but the other big capitalists are not willing to do that, are not willing to do what these men, 10 times more worthy, have already done, and it is going to take a law to require them to do it.
Organize your Share Our Wealth Society and get your people to meet with you, and make known your wishes to your Senators and Representatives in Congress.
Now, my friends, I am going to stop. I thank you for this opportunity to talk to you. I am having to talk under the auspices and by the grace and permission of the National Broadcasting System tonight, and they are letting me talk free. If I had the money, and I wish I had the money, I would like to talk to you more often on this line, but I have not got it, and I cannot expect these people to give it to me free except on some rare instance. But, my friends, I hope to have the opportunity to talk with you, and I am writing to you, and I hope that you will get up and help in the work, because the resolutions and bills are before Congress, and we hope to have your help in getting together and organizing your Share Our Wealth Societies.
Now, that I have but a minute left, I want to say that I suppose my family is listening in on the radio in New Orleans, and I will say to my wife and three children that I am entirely well and hope to be home before many more days, and I hope they have listened to my speech tonight, and I wish them and all of their neighbors and friends everything good that may be had.
I thank you, my friends, for your kind attention, and I hope you will enroll with us, take care of your own work in the work of this Government, and share or help in our Share Our Wealth Societies.
People use the term anthropocene to refer to the current age of manmade climate change. I wonder whether the better term might be “phantasiacene” as the primary problem is how humans have collapsed into unrelenting self deception. What do you think?