Weaponizing nature

Interesting piece on the weaponisation of nature and the military’s use of renewable and alternative energy sources.

ENTITLE blog - a collaborative writing project on Political Ecology

By Patrick Bigger and Benjamin Neimark* 

Military excursions into low carbon fuels is not a case of military greenwashing but rather one of ‘weaponizing nature’, an approach perpetuating an interventionist US foreign policy linked to environmental change.

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June 8th

As a left libertarian I personally believe that the concentration of power in parliamentary and representative systems will always lead to inequality and a division between a “political” class and the rest of society. There is a repugnant revolving door between Westminster to positions of power and wealth. It is a deep-seated web that prevents decisions being taken in favour of most of society, worsening the social and environmental crises we face. The solution to our problems does not lie within the narrow confines of neoliberal or state capitalist dogma.

However, given the current circumstances, I do not subscribe to the idea of abstaining from the UK’s general election on June the 8th. If the Tories are left in power they will continue their warpath against the environment, sensible foreign policy, human rights, social justice, the rights of sick and disabled individuals, the NHS, the education system, public housing and just about anything that could help remediate social ills and create a healthy society. Here’s a nice little list of things the Tories have done in the last seven years:

I could go on and on, there’s hundreds of appalling examples of the disdain the Conservative party shows for human decency. Then Theresa May topped it all of by stating that she’d have no issues with launching a first nuclear strike capable of killing 100.000 innocent civilians. Not even a blink. Not even a thought for the people who would be incinerated whilst the government retreated to a bunker and waited for some horrible new society to emerge, one they could govern over with no dissent. A vote for the Tories is a vote for literal psychopaths who will do anything to retain power and wealth.

If a vote for Labour is a vote against the horror of the Conservative party then I’ll vote Labour.

Syria and Trump, Escalation and the Politics of Confusion

Following a horrendous gas attack on civilians in Syria, the US carried out an attack on  al-Shayrat airbase in Homs province in Syria. Donald Trump said the thought of Syrian children suffering affected him. It fucking didn’t. If he cared about Syrian civilians and children, traumatised and suffering after five bloody long years of civil war, why is he pushing to implement a ban on them entering the US? Why did he display nothing for contempt for refugees fleeing a horrific war, proudly stating “I can look in their face and tell them they can’t come here“? It’s theater, and there will be a reason behind it. Either the action was taken to reinforce his image as a strong-handed leader and stop approval ratings nosediving, or there’s some other motive. Rex Tillerson might be eyeing up some tasty fossil fuel reserves in the region (I mean you couldn’t really put it past a man who worked as CEO of Exxon Mobil, and who has repeatedly stated his commitment to expanding fossil fuel extraction – even denying its environmental effects  whilst working to conceal evidence of climate change – from the Russian Arctic to brutal central African dictatorships).

You may change the faces at the forefront of the state, but very little changes between either party. He previously attacked Obama for talking about intervention, saying he would do so to improve his ratings, that he should stay out of Syria. I firmly believe Adam Curtis was right when he said politics now are politics of confusion: undefinable, constantly changing, absorbing all opposition. The enemy seems to change daily, and those in power seem to continue to paint everything as a black-or-white, good-against-evil fight, which reduces the mess of the Syrian civil war into a simplistic understanding. As likely as it may look that the regime carried out the attack, it is still necessary to carry out a full investigation before resorting to strikes and risking escalation. Information is contorted and distorted during conflicts for political agendas, and you can hardly trust extremist militias (now making up much of the formerly secular opposition  groups) or brutal dictatorships to provide reliable evidence. The war is so complex and confusing that there’s even been reports of Pentagon-backed and CIA-backed militias fighting each other. Anyone who tries to paint it as a good-against-evil fight is an idiot or a liar.

The chances of the US normalising its relations with Russia are looking pretty slim. The US foreign policy has long been one of the most manipulative and aggressive on the planet (here’s a list of all of the USA’s regime change operations) and this escalation will have reasons and motives behind it. Trump crying crocodile tears is bullshit.

The UK’s cowardly systematic approval of US foreign policy continues (I guess you would when even your nuclear weapons system is dependent on the US), with the government strongly backing the strikes, apparently “because war crimes have consequences”. What about Saudi Arabian atrocities in Yemen? I guess their consequences are selling them more weapons than any other country (around £900m of weapons in 2015) despite evidence that the weapons are being used in war crimes, and getting a lot of oil in return. The UK government does not care about human rights, if they did they wouldn’t sell weapons to two thirds of the countries on their own human rights watch list. It’s posturing, and the UK will blindly follow the rules of its “special relationship” with the United States, no matter how disastrous the consequences.


Source: The Economist


Source: ThinkProgress

As disgustingly brutal Assad’s regime is, If the current policy is to attack both IS and the regime, isn’t each attack reinforcing the other parties? What will come of it? Haven’t we learnt that this kind of disastrous intervention is what led in part to the current regional chaos, that many of the violent fanatical groups are a result of the mess of the Iraq War, and other failed interventions in the region? Whatever the real reasoning is of the White House, all I hear is the beating of war drums. Escalation and deterioration seem sadly inevitable.


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Ctrl Alt Delete Report on the Alt-Right

This is a couple of months old now but well worth a read. This report by Political Research shows the components and movements that make up the USA’s Alt-Right, and underlines its trends and many contradictions. It is far more varied in means, goals and directions than is portrayed in the media, as well as being sectarian and contradictory in itself. 

It does not seem like a unified, homogenous movement, but more of a web of varied strains of capitalist, fascist, white supremacist, Tea Party “libertarians” and right-wing to far-right ideologies, ideologues and groups. Their one unifying factor is Donald Trump’s election, and the fact that they all will benefit from the election of a Twitter-crazy reactionary manchild demagogue to the most important political position in the world. 

Welcome to late capitalism. I dunno about you guys, but I can’t wait for the impending resource wars over increasingly slim reserves of extreme energy, and water and food supplies being ravaged and rationed due to the global failure to initiate a paradigm beyond endless growth. I for one welcome our new oily methane-harvesting capitalist overlords.

Big Oil, the North Sea and the Millions It Costs to Keep It Afloat

Desmog UK have published a report showing the cost of the North Sea Oil industry to the taxpayer. Read it here.

Since 2015, the Treasury has given the industry tax breaks worth £2.3 billion. This is despite BP, Shell and Total making after tax profits of $10 billion in 2016 alone.

The hypocrisy of neoliberalism: no matter the cost, it always pushed onto the population. Whilst the heads of massive fossil fuel extraction companies preach free market principles they run to the government to keep themselves afloat, diverting money that could be used for people’s needs into destruction and ecological disasters waiting to happen. All this despite the oil industry having huge profit margins.

In recent years, the North Sea industry has also become a burden on taxpayers, rather than contributing to the overall economy, as the network claims. In 2016, the Treasury spent £24 million more propping up the industry than it got in return through tax contributions.

The idea of companies fleeing to avoid tax is largely baseless, countries with less tax breaks and higher taxes don’t suddenly become devoid of investment. Corporate tax has lowered substantially along with enormous tax breaks worth billions increasing over the last decades, the costs of which have been shouldered by the general population. The UK now has one of the lowest corporate tax rates of any major economy. 

If it’s costing us money to have the industry there in the first place, those millions could be used or invested much more wisely. Once again, the true ideological colours of the UKs establishment are shown,  with projects and schemes costing the government money huge amounts of money (such as the cruel and massively flawed benefits sanctions system, or skyrocketing prices of new nuclear plants constructed by foreign state-owned entreprises) blindly supported, no matter what their human or ecological consequences.

Another important factor, often ignored, is the hidden costs behind fossil fuel extraction and processing from everything to healthcare costs, environmental cleanup and rising seas. These costs are directly attributable to the processes necessary to fuel use and consumption, yet their cost is always burdened by other parties. Instead of taking into account these damages by means of increased prices or taxation, which would incentivise greener energy (such as wind or solar) as cheaper alternatives, fossil fuel companies are left to do as they please, leeching off the economy in the process.

It’s funny that the Conservatives – a party that professes economic and financial responsibility – would squander so much at the expense of so many. What is the reasoning behind it? What is a multimillionaire CEO or investor going to do with the extra money on the pile? Another imported luxury car that remains in a garage ninety-five percent of the time, another flat sitting idle during a housing crisis, another few thousand pumped into a tax haven whilst we’re told that there’s no money for fundamental public services, whilst those profits empower companies that steamroll ahead on their destructive fate, often lining the pockets of tyrants and dividing the population.

What can you do? You could push for divestment where you study or work, or move your money into banks that don’t invest in fossil fuels. It won’t change the world, but it will make a dent in fossil fuel revenue. 

Leaving dirty energy behind is key to preventing the worst scenarios of runaway climate change, which becomes more and more probable with each passing day stuck in the status quo. The combination of climate disasters and the current massive inequality would be horrible: a return to some form of feudalism, an unimaginably repressive dystopian world ruled entirely by private interests, humans serving merely as geopolitical pawns and armies of disposable labour, faced with dwindling natural resources, mass extinction and a collapsing biosphere. The wealthy will insulate themselves with luxury and private security, leaving the masses to deal with the fallout. Shit, that escalated quickly. About as quickly as the shrinking volume of sea ice in the Arctic. I don’t blame you for becoming a nihilist.

As long as underlying networks of lobbyists and power remain, fossil fuel companies will continue their warpath.
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The UK’s Drug Policy

The policy of the UK government has been consistent: to criminalise drug users and addicts instead of giving them assistance to resolve what is, at the end of the day, a health problem. Take, for example, the reclassification of cannabis from a class C to a class B drug under Labour in 2008, meaning harsher sentences. Even khat, a relatively harmless drug (the WHO stating it can form psychological dependence, but considers it not to be seriously problematic, being on the bottom of the scale in terms of harm) consumed mainly by Yemeni and East African communities in the UK, was criminalised in 2014. Home secretary at the time (and now the UK’s very own post-Brexit, post-truth Sithlord) Theresa May went against the recommendations by the Advisory Council on Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), and now it’s a Class C drug, punishable by up to two years in prison and an unlimited fine (after being stopped with the substance more than twice).

A report by the Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs published in The Lancet in 2010 showed that LSD, magic mushrooms and ecstasy (MDMA) are all considered less harmful than khat, cannabis, alcohol, cocaine, tobacco, or heroin, yet they are class A drugs. They concluded that “the findings correlate poorly with present UK drug classification, which is not based simply on considerations of harm.”

The classification of these drugs reflects the government’s willingness to avoid a science-based approach to drug laws, instead painting users of these products as criminals. The government even brought in a strange, poorly-worded and vague bill in 2015 called The Psychoactive Substances Bill, that seemed to lack definition of what could be considered a psychoactive substance, and brings up the issue of potentially helpful new drugs in a medical context can be banned outright. The ISCD goes into more detail here.

The Prison Reform Trust states that 15% of men and women are in prison on drug offences, and 66% of women and 38% of men report committing offences in order to acquire money for drugs. These problems are tied to addiction, and locking people up along with people that have committed more serious, violent acts cannot help.

But the Conservative government seems to want to embark on some Reaganite moral crusade against drugs, whilst simultaneously refusing to bring in policies that would lower the consumption of one of the most widespread and dangerous substances, alcohol. Westminster rejected minimum pricing proposals in 2013 pushed by health groups, Minister Jeremy Browne stating that there wasn’t enough “concrete evidence” to prove that a minimum unit price would prevent alcohol-related harm.  A new report published in December 2016 illustrates that alcohol is the main killer of people between 15 – 49 years old. No concrete evidence?

The EU is also complicit in this: its courts ruled that the Scottish Government’s attempt to bring in minimum unit pricing would breach EU free trade rules—note the lobbying from Scottish Whisky Association with support from European alcohol producers organisations—before Scotlands’ courts ruled it to be legal in October 2016, only after four years of legal challenges from the SWA).

The United Kingdom already has a large prison population, the largest in Europe—and sits high in the European incarceration rates. British prisons are overcrowded and have had frequent riots recently, meaning conditions that are unlikely to rehabilitate prisoners or help them reintegrate into society upon leaving. Sentences are getting longer and more indeterminate sentences are being issued. Prisons are trying to cram as many prisoners in as they can fit, despite the obvious impacts on violence, such as G4S-run HMP Oakwood near Wolverhampton which is converting single cells into double cells to increase capacity by nearly a third. G4S aren’t exactly a very nice company by any measure, given their track record of human rights abuses, international law violations and prisoner abuse. God knows why such a shitty company would be given contracts so easily, even after overcharging the government by millions and then failing to provide the promised services time and time again (look at the London Olympics deal). Clearly throwing more people in prisons with addictions isn’t going to solve much, especially if prisons are overcrowded, rife with violence and understaffed.

It seems as though destroying your health and the health of others is fine, as long as it’s state permitted. But if you want to sit around in your underwear, watching Netflix whilst smoking weed, you can be punished with fines and prison sentences going up to five years, as well as unlimited fines. Going out and drinking your liver to oblivion is somehow and acceptable whilst any other drugs are immoral? I believe there’s cultural elements in the mix, that Europeans have consumed alcohol for a very long time, that the laws imposed don’t shock the population as we normalise certain substances whilst believing others are far worse.

 What is next for the government? Will they go on some poorly-planned and horribly executed war on drugs, like the US did, blinded by ideology, landing them with the largest prison population and the second-highest incarceration rate in the world? It is hard to believe that after decades of failed drug policy across the globe politicians, and the general population for that matter, continues to remain so scientifically illiterate, or just ignorant, and believe that punishment is the only response, that a state can impose some contradictory moral code on its citizens without even having to prove its effectiveness, or indeed that it works at all.

It would be more sensible to start a decriminalisation policy or even legalisation policy. Something along the lines of the Portuguese model of decriminalisation, which may have contributed to it achieving some of the lowest overdose rates in Europe (contrasted with Norway and Sweden’s very high overdose rates – and their very strict drug enforcement, Sweden having a zero-tolerance approach to creating a fantastical “drug free society” with a complete lack of supervised consumption centres and Norway’s repressive failure to differentiate between problematic and non-problematic users). One last spanner in the works many reports and studies (here, here, and here for example) show direct links between inequality and drug use, I guess as long as the UK has an economy rigged in favour of the wealthy and treats drugs as a criminal problem, nothing will get better.

For further reading on decriminalisation and drug policy I’d recommend the following websites and articles: