DISRUPTING THE WAR SYSTEM April, 2020
“We can’t win a war directed against the very planet we live on. We need to put down our weapons of war and plunder, negotiate an honorable surrender, and sign a lasting peace treaty with the planet”. Gar Smith says so much in these few words. And, as this assignment so unequivocally states: “All war is war on the environment.”
Canada has an ongoing, particularly shameful war against the environment in the Alberta Tar Sands. This relentless, dirty oil extraction project has been polluting the land, the rivers, the skies and the traditional territories of Indigenous peoples in northern Alberta for decades. Thanks to several enlightened Supreme Court of Canada decisions, industry now is legally required to meaningfully consult with Indigenous peoples prior to taking resources from their traditional lands. This includes of course, drilling and mining for fossil fuels, as well as the building and expansion of pipelines through Indigenous territories. Thanks to these hard-won decisions, as Naomi Klein states: “Indigenous rights are not dependent upon the whims of politicians” (This Changes Everything @374).
Along with opportunities for change brought by COVID, we are now seeing the complete collapse of the price of oil, so this may well be a time for significant change to Canadians’ misguided perception that we need the Tar Sands project – both for jobs and for revenue. As our course materials say, our survival is now threatened by “gun barrels and oil barrels”.
If we could redirect our spending on fossil fuels and arms, we could move toward a true peace economy.
Here in Canada, we are in the midst of a non-violent protest on the part of the Wet’suwet’en people in BC and their supporters across the country. It involves a standoff against the building of a pipeline through Wet’suwet’en territories to carry Tar Sands bitumen (dirty oil) from Alberta to the coast, and from there, on tankers to Asia. COVID has interrupted the public gatherings and the barricade, but resistance continues online through webinars, fund-raising, gathering resources and building a network of solidarity.
In my view, the main obstacles to disrupting the War System are ignorance generally, and willful blindness on the part of our most wealthy and privileged, those benefiting from the status quo.
We Canadians like to envision ourselves as peaceable and to assign blame to the US for the world’s war-making. We turn away from news of our $5B sale of light-armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia, despite its illegality under our own laws, let alone international law, due to Saudi human rights abuses. Our government officially supports Israel, despite its relentless assault on the Palestinian people. We have considered NATO to simply be part of our contribution to world security, willfully blind to NATO’s lead role in the war on Libya, the bombing of former Yugoslavia, and its current presence for “military exercises” on the borders of Russia. NATO is actually an arms-buying co-op, where members are both pressured and enticed to get the best deals on the most advanced weaponry. Most of us are unaware of Trump’s demand that NATO nations (such as Canada) do “their fair share” in arming up, to the tune of 2% of our annual GDP. Canada spends less than that; the US of course, spends much more. How can we link the damage caused by our own militarism to the damage due to our extractivism? We must make these links ourselves, and make them very, very public. Canadians seem to finally be making the climate crisis a priority, but there are few signs of awareness that our military spending and war-preparation are linked to the climate crisis.
How might we organize?
There are many who do care, who really do want to see Canada realize its potential as a force for good in the world. First, we have much to do at home, continuing with our ongoing multi-pronged reconciliation process with the Indigenous peoples on whose land we live.
The intersectionality of the last few years is heartening – a linkage of movements that, as Gar Smith points out, Greenpeace long ago acknowledged in choosing its very name. This linkage has now broadened to unite those working to end poverty, racism, police brutality, sexual violence, and so on. We need each other – the voices of all those disaffected by “corporate militocracies”, where governments are controlled by fossil fuel interests and the arms industry (Gar Smith). We must use every means available to educate humanity about our critical need to convert our global and local economies to sustainable ones.
COVID ironically presents its opportunities, in that cities are seeing stars in their skies again, people are hearing more bird song, planting more food gardens, the earth is getting a tiny chance to breathe again – all benefits of a slowed down economy. The Canadian government has recently averted a petulant plea from big oil for a multi-billion dollar bailout, and instead directed funds toward (1) reclamation of lands destroyed by extraction and (2) investment in renewables. This is a good start. We have a long way to go. The public’s mind has to be disabused of the propaganda surrounding fossil fuels (It represents jobs, our very way of life, we need to be realistic, etc.) and our military obligations (NATO is necessary and benign, and mostly keeps the peace). We need to redirect our spending to funding a transition period to a peace economy. That could mean a basic income guaranteed by the state, massive retraining, conversion of our military to an unarmed civil “peace corps” to assist civilians in repair of infrastructure, reclamation of habitat/ lands destroyed by extractivism, and much more. Importantly, we need to deal with the underlying issues that force people to rely on fossil fuel extraction for their livelihood. We need to offer marginalized people viable alternatives, ones that are life-giving. We need to put ourselves once again in right relationship with Mother Earth in order to disrupt the War System.