If there’s anything that’s going to shatter national borders and force humanity to reorganize itself, it’s climate change.
But as long as we look at this looming planetary unraveling from within the cage of nationalism — especially “white nationalism,” which quietly remains the full meaning of the term — we simply see the natural world as another potential enemy: a threat to “national security.”
This, of course, is the limit of any discussion about climate change in the limited world of government, where thinking does not transcend the role of the Defense Department in our sense of who we are. Thus, as Sarah Lazare points out, one of the unnoticed provisions of the recently passed National Defense Authorization Act of 2020, which boosted the Defense budget this year to $738 billion, is the creation of something called the “Climate Security Advisory Council,” which defines “climate security” as a matter of protecting “the national security of the United States” and “the military, political, or economic interests of allies and partners of the United States.”
Protecting them from what? Well, we need to watch out for “ongoing or potential political violence, including unrest, rioting, guerrilla warfare, insurgency, terrorism, rebellion, revolution, civil war, and interstate war.” This, of course, is what could happen not in the developed, post-colonial world in which we live, but in the undeveloped, impoverished world that bears the brunt of climate change, which of course has primarily been caused by the planetary exploitation and military operations of the wealthy nations.
“These efforts to address climate change through a national security lens are deeply worrisome,” writes Lazare. “If an ethic of fear and national self-interest — and not justice and solidarity — shapes the U.S. response to climate change, it could unleash a number of frightening actions, in which the U.S. fortresses its borders, protects its military bases and slams the door on those its emissions have harmed.”
This is what I call the mentality of “power over.” It simplifies security to a clueless defense against the currently defined enemy, which has transitioned in my lifetime from communist to terrorist, and may be nudging beyond political bad guys to the problematic hordes of refugees created by climate change.
“… what really terrifies me,” said Naomi Klein in an interview, “is what we are seeing at our borders in Europe and North America and Australia… . We are seeing the beginnings of the era of climate barbarism. We saw it in Christchurch, we saw it in El Paso, where you have this marrying of white supremacist violence with vicious anti-immigrant racism.”
These two mass murders last year are examples of the end result of militarist thinking. In Christchurch, New Zealand, an armed crazy who killed 50 people and wounded 50 more at two mosques last March, declared in a manifesto: “We are experiencing an invasion on a level never seen before in history. Millions of people are pouring across our borders, legally, invited by the state and corporate entities to replace the white people who have failed to reproduce, failed to create cheap labor, new consumers and tax base that the corporations and states needs to thrive.”
And the El Paso, Texas killer, who murdered 22 people at a Walmart’s last August, said in his screed: “Many people think that the fight for America is already lost. They couldn’t be more wrong. This is just the beginning of the fight for America and Europe. I am honored to head the fight to reclaim my country from destruction.”
This is militarism, as it comes home to roost. While it’s no longer as politically correct as it once was to assume that national security and racism are the same thing (unless your name is Donald Trump), it was born that way and isn’t going away.
“White supremacy emerged not just because people felt like thinking up ideas that were going to get a lot of people killed but because it was useful to protect barbaric but highly profitable actions,” Klein said in her interview. “The age of scientific racism begins alongside the transatlantic slave trade; it is a rationale for that brutality. If we are going to respond to climate change by fortressing our borders, then of course the theories that would justify that, that create these hierarchies of humanity, will come surging back.”
All of this is a way of declaring — screaming — that we reap what we sow. Climate upheaval must be addressed with a sense of spiritual wholeness: We are one planet, profoundly interconnected. Playing war with it — finally, finally — must stop. Climate security is a matter of defining ourselves, humbly, as part of Mother Earth, and searching our souls for the eco-reverence we once had. Even if it’s too late, this is what we must do!
I don’t know how this will happen. It may not be possible until nationalism and its silent god, racism, begin giving way to the reality of climate change. Right now, too much of the non-indigenous world defines itself with a mixture of power and fear, best exemplified by the term “national defense.” Thus, in the U.S., insanely massive military budgets are approved without question or controversy every year — as though this is who we are — while spending to help people or the planet survive is bitterly, and for the most part successfully, contested.
The threat of climate change may be what finally interrupts this. Could this threat also be humanity’s rescuer?
Robert Koehler, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is an award-winning Chicago journalist and editor.