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A Green New Deal For Global Security

As we enter the New Year of 2019, we face the potential for more record global warmth. The fossil fuel burning that has continued for so long, that has been industrialized and unwisely linked (by industry and policy) to economic growth in many regions continues at a devastating pace. A pace that injects about 37 billion tons of heat-trapping carbon dioxide into our atmosphere each year. For in too many cases, the necessary transition to an admittedly much stronger and far more viable clean energy economy has been blocked or delayed.

A Harmful Status Quo

We are a world locked in conflict between old fossil fuel interests and emerging clean energy and pro climate change response interests. Thus far, the conflict has generated a state of both economic and political grid-lock. One that at present perpetuates the harmful status quo.

We face vast continued greenhouse gas emissions presenting a growing danger to everyone and everything living on Earth. The threat of damaging climate change occurring on human time-scales is no longer some far-off object whose emerging reality can easily be hidden from public view by republican deniers in the U.S. government and abroad or related mass media campaigns funded by the fossil fuel monetary and political interests who authored the crisis.

surface melt ponding Amery ice shelf

(Increasing surface melt ponding in both Antarctica and Greenland, as seen in this January 1, 2019 satellite shot of the Amery Ice Shelf, is one visible sign of climate change’s growing impacts. Large land ice sheet melt is the primary driver of both sea level rise and changes to ocean circulation. Just two of many harms driven by fossil fuel burning and related carbon emissions. Image provided by NASA Worldview.)

The threat posed by human-caused climate change is one that impacts us now. And though present impacts are mild compared to a future in which vast fossil fuel burning and related dumping of carbon into Earth’s atmosphere continues, we are faced with growing damage, hurt, and harm today.

How did we get here? It’s a big question. One to be answered fully by future historians. But we can simply say that we haven’t transitioned away from fossil fuel burning fast enough. That we haven’t yet adopted clean energy or clean political thinking at a swift enough pace. That the old ways of power-brokering linked to fossil fuel burning continue with a tenacity which is, itself, difficult to deny.

Old Smoke-Stack Politics vs New Clean Energy Politics

Though a single blog is perhaps too short an article to address such a vast issue fully, it is certainly possible to take a look at the tip of the (metaphorically and literally) melting ice-berg. In doing so, we ask the teasing question — how are such seemingly far-flung objects as Amery Ice Shelf melt ponds, a Green New Deal, Russian meddling in the 2016 election, and Russian nuclear capable bombers in Venezuela linked?

As literary objects go the question is, of course, rhetorical. But it is one that reveals how old smokestack style power-plays can keep us stuck in the ongoing harmful pattern of fossil fuel burning, warming, and increasing global environmental damage together with the related geopolitical conflict that all too frequently results. It also opens up the avenue to a new geopolitical contest to old regimes. One based on clean energy economies of scale and technological innovation coupled with climate change response.

Clean Energy Enabled Obama’s Counter to Russian Aggression

Back during the Obama Administration, there was a larger challenge to old forms of power brokering. It happened when Russia invaded the Ukraine and the U.S. sanctioned Russian oil ventures such as the fossil fuel multinational — Rosneft.

The U.S., under Obama, through both clean energy policy and increased oil extraction at home had become more energy independent. But more importantly, with policies such as EV incentives, increased fuel efficiency standards for automobiles, the sun shot initiative, adherence to the Paris Climate Agreement, and the implementation of the Clean Power Plan taking hold, the U.S. was also turning toward a future that was finally less dependent on fossil fuels and, more importantly, the broad availability of oil and gas. The U.S., under Obama, was thus able to move more and more away from the old oil and gas politics that might have forced our nation to turn a blind eye to Russian aggression in Eastern Europe. Instead, old oil-based global policy gave way to something new as the U.S. effectively canceled an Exxon-Mobil contract with Rosneft even as it moved to hamper Russia’s oil oligarchs in retaliation for its physical aggression.

Russia — Slave to Oil and Gas Revenue

Then and now, Rosneft was a cornerstone of Russian political and economic power. The company, like the East India Trade Company of the old British Empire, serves Russia as a way of projecting its power abroad. We see this in Russia’s past use of gas shipments to influence Europe. We see it in Russia’s past and present use of oil ventures like Rosneft to gain political footholds in places like Venezuela. And we see it in Russia’s attempts to use Rosneft to directly influence U.S. policy through relationships with western oil giants like Exxon.

Western sanctions against Rosneft and related oil oligarchs put a check on Russian power projection. It also leveled a direct threat to Russia’s narrow economic power base. Represented, in part, by its use of Rosneft as a political tool for power projection, Russia is itself fully invested in fossil fuel burning. For not only is Rosneft a lever for Russian power brokering abroad, the company exists in a context in which 16 percent of Russian GDP comes from oil and gas money. Moreover, 52 percent of Russia’s federal budget is funded by fossil fuel revenues from state-corporate entities such as Rosneft. Meanwhile, 70 percent of Russia’s export revenue comes from the oil and gas sector. Unable or, more likely, unwilling to diversify its economy away from oil and gas, Russia is instead a slave to it.

2016 Election Meddling in Context

Given the above, we can see that the Russian economy suffers a kind of resource curse in relation to its dependence on fossil fuels. But Russia has also taken a rather odd stance with regards to climate change. National policy has long considered climate change beneficial to Russia. This despite the fact that recent research shows numerous harms including movement of rains away from most productive soils, expanding wildfires in the north, widespread loss of land due to sea level rise, and destabilization of border states to the south.

(How a Green New Deal would make America great by enabling us to confront foreign adversaries and climate harms in one go.)

That said, after grappling with an Obama Administration more emboldened to sanction its fossil fuel industry, Russia had every short term economic and political incentive to seek regime change in the U.S. Trump, with his climate change denial, promise to double down on old energy sources like oil gas and coal, and his stated aims to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Climate Agreement while cancelling programs like the Clean Power Plan appeared to be ready to generate policy more beneficial to Russia’s fossil fuel sector. With oil and gas presently so central to Russia’s economy, the motivation to support Trump on an economic and political power basis alone must have been quite strong. This on top of a widely cited motivation to generate chaos and division in the U.S. during election season.

Venezuela: Oil as Power Lever and Motivator for Aggression

Following its meddling in the 2016 U.S. election with the stated aim to place Donald Trump as President, Russia’s oil-based power plays continued. This time, Rosneft gained a lien on 50 percent of Citgo — the Venezuelan state oil company. Venezuela, even more heavily dependent on oil revenue than Russia, has been facing economic decline ever since oil prices crashed during the late 2000s. Smelling opportunity, Russia has moved into Venezuela, funded its debt, and announced joint oil production agreements.

Russia’s increased hold over Venezuela is also reminiscent of past cold war power moves in which easily leveraged resources like oil often played a key role in establishing vassal or proxy states. The most recent move by Russia brings with it the old sabre rattling of nuclear capable weapons system movements and related media sensationalism as Russia’s deployment of two nuclear bombers to a Venezuelan air base ruffled feathers from Europe to the U.S.

Green New Deal — A Way Forward for U.S. Climate and National Security

Russia’s power plays may seem similar to the past. But they occur in a context where the U.S. increasingly has the option to respond by doubling down on clean energy policy as a means to directly counter the might of bad actor regimes dependent on fossil fuel revenue. This is in direct contrast to the cold war where hard power responses like troop movements and weapons systems deployments were seen as central to national defense.

In the new era, such movements of troops may also be seen as necessary. But the response that matters most to long term U.S. national security is the lessening of reliance on fossil fuel to give the U.S. a better bargaining position vis a vis petro states like Russia while simultaneously reducing the nation’s contribution to the climate crisis.

Such synergistic foreign policy benefits evoking a new U.S. economic and moral leadership would seem to make clean energy based programs like the Green New Deal and revitalization of energy efficiency and clean energy supports a no-brainer nationally. These are domestic programs with global consequences for the future of the United States. And the fact that adversaries like Russia are working hard to prevent the implementation of such programs at home should provide a clear incentive for all Americans to support them.

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