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End War(Ming): we need system change, not climate change


Hundreds of demonstrators gathered outside Britain's parliament in London to protest the government's determination to press ahead with air strikes on Syria. 1 December 2015. by Alisdare Hickson

Following the British parliamentary vote to bomb Syria, Iraq War veteran and peace activist Shawna Foster explains how these kinds of military interventions are linked to fossil fuels and climate change.

Two years ago, forest fires raged for months in my home state of Colorado, displacing thousands of people and destroying more than 170,000 acres. People I know live beneath these burn scars in the mountains and are still dealing with the after effects of this disaster, which was exacerbated by climate change. Yet instead of seeing their stories on the news, there is an endless parade of fear mongering about Syrian and Iraqi refugees who risked it all to have a better life.

I served in the military in the era of the ‘Global War on Terror’ and was told who the enemy was. After realising that my service and the need for my job as a Nuclear Biological Chemical Specialist was built on a lie (we never found those nukes that the Bush administration promised were there), I don’t accept narratives of who to fear. What really frightens me aren’t refugees or the Daesh (Islamic State) but the disastrous effects of global climate change that we see every day and the militarized response to it. I live with survivor’s guilt: I should have been deployed, the war my friends died in created more terrorists, and how can we hold politicians responsible for conducting a war of choice that protected profits instead of people. What is terrifying is the kind of world my children will inherit if we don’t take the steps toward fundamental change now. How long will the mountains burn in their lifetime?

Let’s be frank: the same transnational corporations that profit off of the misery of my fellow veterans, and those living in the war zones that our occupations have created, are often also making massive profits by destroying our environment here in the United States. These companies maintain harmless sounding ‘logistical operations’ in Iraq and Afghanistan and also run sprawling fracking camps in North and South Dakota. They operate oil derricks, like the disastrous failure of the Deepwater Horizon, off the coast of Louisiana. Yet, we don’t see them on the news as a threat to our way of life. They are.

Every day, they threaten our access to clean water, they take away our ability to feel safe in our own homes due to the rise in extreme weather events, and they strip our land with extractivist technologies that radically disrupt ecosystems and have created a mass extinction event of thousands of species. Around the world, millions have had these threats made real as exploited resources become more scarce and ecological disasters grow larger and last longer. There are far more victims of climate change than terrorism.

The government’s primary response to climate change is to use the military but few admit it. Politicians here deny climate change in one breath and commit funds to the department of defense to plan for a world at war over water in the next breath. I don't want a more militaristic response to climate change. I have already seen a war over the dwindling resource of oil and how that instability has contributed to terror. We must have a different and equally powerful response to climate change, one that will reverse course and benefit the many, not the few who can lobby for military protection of profit.

I am joining many people representing the most impacted frontline communities from across the United States in Paris at the COP21 conference. We know better than anyone what lies ahead if we don’t make solid commitments toward fundamental change. And it’s time that our elected leaders listen to us. We need a wholesale shift in our infrastructure with a thoughtful plan advocated by calm leaders who realise the people in the frontline communities that are most affected must lead the change.

We, in the United States, have done a complete infrastructure overhaul before. This entire country mobilized for World War I and II, which required a complete overhaul of our entire social system to support the war effort.

What if, this time, we mobilized again, but instead of it being against another nation or the spectre of terrorism, it was to push for a system change that could finally heal our planet? What if we courageously responded to the proper fears of climate change? It is going to take nothing less than this to build a world that I can leave to my children. Unlike other fights that I have been mobilized toward in my past, this is one I’m proud to be in. We must work together for change – no war, no warming, and to build an economy for the people and the planet.

Shawna Foster is a veteran of the US National Guard where she served as a Nuclear Biological Chemical Weapons Specialist. She now organizes with Iraq Veterans Against The War and is attending COP21 as part of the It Takes Roots delegation.

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