CODEPINK co-founder Medea Benjamin calls on advocates of the Green New Deal to fight both the fossil fuel economy and the war economy
DHARNA NOOR: It’s The Real News. I’m Dharna Noor.
Support for a Green New Deal is growing on Capitol Hill, spearheaded by youth climate organizers with the Sunrise Movement who’ve been holding mass actions this week, and Representative-Elect Alexandria Ocasio Cortez from New York. The Green New Deal is an umbrella term for policies that aim to end reliance on fossil fuels in a decade, and support climate justice and job creation. Dozens of electeds have endorsed their call for a congressional Select Committee with only members who don’t accept fossil fuel money. But our next guest thinks that something’s missing from their movement.
Medea Benjamin is here today in the studio with me, and she’s a co-founder of the woman-led peace group CODEPINK. She just wrote the new piece Why Green New Deal Advocates Must Address Militarism, published in Common Dreams. Thanks for being here.
MEDEA BENJAMIN: Nice to be with you.
DHARNA NOOR: So, you wrote in your piece that the movement for the Green New Deal has to end militarism, has to call for the end to militarism. But I think some people might be reading that and wondering how it would even be possible to take on something as entrenched as the military-industrial complex, when I mean, of course, the opposition to fighting climate change is already so strong. Just a couple of days ago at COP24 in Poland, we were saying that the U.S., and Russia, and Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait were pushing to downplay the results of the IPCC report that shows we may just have 12 years left to fight climate change. Why should people not be afraid of that opposition, and why is it worth taking on a whole other opposition?
MEDEA BENJAMIN: Well, first let me say how thrilled I am by the Sunrise Movement, the energy of the young people, by the Green New Deal, by the election of Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, and all the momentum there is for being visionary about where we want to go, and the kind of–well, the fact that we want to have a world decades from now, if not hundreds of years from now. And so I think it’s important to incorporate the issue of militarism because it’s so much a part of both the problem and the solution.
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So when we talk about the problem, we see that the Pentagon is the number one polluter in the world, the number one consumer of fossil fuels, the number one emitter of carbon emissions. It’s the number one polluter when you look at these Superfund sites here in the United States. Over 900 of the 3300 Superfund sites are military related. And overseas, the U.S. military bases are tremendous sources of pollution and destruction of local environments. So we also see that things like even the war in Syria, there is an element to the drought that brought millions of farmers into the city. There are now climate refugees that are part of wars that are ongoing, and also create instability in societies with the influx of millions of refugees.
So there’s so many relationships between war and militarism. But then on the flip side, when you look at where are we going to get the funds that we need to address the issue of climate chaos, there’s only one really big pot of money that we can and must address, and that is the Pentagon budget. The Pentagon budget is out of control. It’s been out of control since after World War II. And then especially since after 9/11 and the war on terrorism has been an excuse to keep building up and building up and building up the Pentagon budget. Even Trump himself said the other day that the Pentagon budget was out of control. But then he goes and he asked for more money for the Pentagon.
So that is where there is, if you add in things like the veterans’ issues and the Energy Department that deals with nuclear weapons, over a trillion dollars that we spend every year on militarism. And that’s where we have to address how we can pull money out of the Pentagon, not affect our safety and security; in fact, make us safer, because we will be antagonizing so many other countries with endless wars.
DHARNA NOOR: Sure. And then driving them to retaliate in some way.
MEDEA BENJAMIN: Right. Right. And then invest hundreds of billions of dollars into the Green New Deal.
DHARNA NOOR: But I guess–so, a skeptic could still listen to you say all of this and say, OK, the U.S. military is the world’s largest consumer of fossil fuels. Green the military, decarbonize the military, make the military less fossil fuel reliant. Or you know, yes, there are more climate refugees now; more refugees being forced to flee countries because of climate change. But just change our policy toward taking in refugees, be more humane. So why is it necessary, I guess, to take on these two fights together? Why can’t they be decoupled?
MEDEA BENJAMIN: Well, just let’s take one issue alone, and that’s U.S. military bases overseas, for example. There are over 800 U.S. military bases. The vast majority of them are serving no national security purpose. They’re relics of World War II. Why do we need dozens of military bases in Germany, in Italy? We have them in Korea now, where there’s peace talks in Korea, and yet we still have dozens of military bases. In fact, over 80 of them. And these are sources of tremendous pollution locally. There are fights in all of these places of local people saying we don’t want the military bases here, we don’t want the pollution here. And yet why isn’t there a call to say we don’t need these bases? Let’s close down, let’s say, 500 of them. And all the savings that we could get could again be ploughed back into addressing the environmental issues.
So there are tremendous opportunities there that would make us less a target, would make us more safe as a nation, and would free up hundreds of billions of dollars. The only thing stopping us is this military-industrial complex, where there’s a couple of companies that get very, very wealthy, like Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin, Boeing, on keeping the military complex overblown. But we should be able to address those.
DHARNA NOOR: Right. Is it harder, though, to drum up support to end financing the military, for instance, than it is to drum up support for job creation in the new renewable economy, for instance?
MEDEA BENJAMIN: Well there’s a lot of lies about the military and job creation. We see when President Trump in his first voyage outside the U.S. went to Saudi Arabia and touted all the jobs that were being created by the sales of weapons to this repressive regime in Saudi Arabia, and you find out that it’s not true. There was just an exhibit of the F-35 in the congressional offices to say what a fabulous weapon this is. It’s going to cost us $1.4 trillion dollars.
DHARNA NOOR: You all held a protest of it.
MEDEA BENJAMIN: We did. And they said oh, but it’s creating hundreds of thousands of jobs. First of all, they lie a lot about all the jobs that are created. And secondly, there have been studies done that show that the military is the worst job creator; that if you took a billion dollars and put it in the military you get like 11,500 jobs. You put that into health care, education, green jobs, whatever, and you will create way more than those 11,000 jobs.
DHARNA NOOR: Very similar to how, for instance, tthe builders of pipelines say that a pipeline created will create so many thousands of jobs, when in fact so many more jobs could be created by the renewable economy.
MEDEA BENJAMIN: Absolutely; the same kind of lies that we hear there. And the same kind of struggles we have in that. The other thing that keeps these in place is the corruption of our political system by big oil money. The same thing is true of the big weapons industries. And so I think we could join together there in saying divest, calling on our politicians to not take money from fossil fuels and not take money from the big weapons companies, just as the wonderful work that has been done in the environmental movement to divest trillions of dollars from the industry, so we need to do the same thing about weapons. Divest our cities, divest our pension funds, divest our universities.
DHARNA NOOR: Is all of that, I guess, politically viable, though, when we still have, of course, the Trump administration not only ramping up support for the military, but also ramping up support for fossil fuels, or a Republican majority in the Senate, still?
MEDEA BENJAMIN: I think there’s so much energy now, so much excitement about these new–particularly the young women of color who are coming into Congress. So many people have been very, very cynical about trying to get our government to make major changes; are now with Bernie Sanders’ campaign, with these new people in Congress feeling like there is energy, there is momentum. If you put out a call like the Sunrise Movement did, thousands of people will come. And the peace movement, you know, in the days of the Bush administration, we’d put out a call and we would get hundreds of thousands of people in the streets.
So there is excitement now. There’s inspiration. And I think this is the moment to bring these two very critical issues together. Because let’s say it’s not just the pollution, it’s not just the wars we’re in. It’s also the threat of nuclear annihilation. There are two existential threats to the planet, and that is nuclear, and that is the climate issue. So really there is so much synergy that we’re not working on that we can be doing.
DHARNA NOOR: Yeah. And I think also maybe there’s an teaching opportunity for–based on sort of a common enemy. For instance, CODEPINK is, of course, and you specifically, have been very critical of the administration in Saudi Arabia, which is not only an extremely repressive regime within Saudi Arabia, but is also repressive in foreign policy, and additionally has been a proponent of climate denial, and you know, ramping up the use of fossil fuels.
MEDEA BENJAMIN: Absolutely. Saudi Arabia wants to keep the world on the fossil fuel treadmill. And so having this close alliance with Saudi Arabia is not only hurting us in terms of the militarism, the catastrophe in Yemen, but also in terms of how do we lessen the power that the countries and the industry have that want to keep the fossil fuel economy going, which we know for sustainability in the long term it can’t keep going. But the same thing is true for the militarism.
We have an economy now that’s based on a war economy. It’s a fossil fuel economy and it’s a war economy. And so as we find all of this new wonderful energy to transition out of the fossil fuel economy, we have to transition out of the war economy. We can’t have an economy where our largest manufacturing and export is weapons. I mean, that’s not a green economy. So I think it is an opportunity to do this, and we should look at it as something very positive.
We do have to recognize that, partly because of all the money that we as taxpayers spend, give the military, to convince us that the military should be the most trusted institution in the United States. There is a lot of work to do, to say it’s not against the military, it’s actually for the military to not be sending soldiers to fight and die in wars. We shouldn’t be overseas. Not to force them to go and take their families to live in another country when they could be living here at home. So close those military bases. Have them here, defending us here at home, not creating new enemies overseas. So there are a lot of people inside the military, I think, who would be our allies in this.
DHARNA NOOR: What are the specific sort of proposals that could go into the Green New Deal? You’ve mentioned, for instance, disincentivizing taking contributions from weapons manufacturers, closing bases. What are some of the specific policies that could go into that New Deal?
MEDEA BENJAMIN: Well, just as people in the environmental movement have been pushing Congress not to take money from the fossil fuel industry, we jointly are going to the new Rules Committee, headed now by a wonderful progressive congressperson, Jim McGovern, and saying shouldn’t it be a rule that no matter–if you are in a committee that is supposed to regulate an industry, you can’t take money from that industry? So that is something that we can do jointly. I think as we look at the platforms of the different organizations in the environmental community, or the progressive community in general, to make sure that there is an element in there that addresses the issue of militarism.
Because there is so much talk about intersectionality, and so much good work that’s being done around issues of race and frontline communities in the environmental world. Look at the frontline communities that are affected by our wars. Who is being killed? They’re all people of color. They’re poor people. And so it really is–it’s part of the same struggle, but we have to find so many more ways that we integrate it into our educational work, into our platforms, and most importantly into the strategies that we come up with.
DHARNA NOOR: And CODEPINK has made a call to Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez herself, asking for some of this language to be included.
MEDEA BENJAMIN: Yes. We have actually written some new language. We have on our website, on CODEPINK.org, the tuggestions that we are making, and in a very friendly, loving way we are saying wouldn’t it be great to get this incorporated into the language of the Green New Deal?
DHARNA NOOR: Well, OK. So as we see the response to that–her response, the response from the Sunrise Movement–we would love to talk to you again. And please keep us posted.
MEDEA BENJAMIN: Wonderful. Thank you so much.
DHARNA NOOR: Thanks, and thanks for all your work.
And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.