Working towards peace and sustainability

Shrink That Footprint!

April is Earth Day Month. What better time to share important information regarding personal actions we can all take to minimize our own contribution to the Climate Crisis. Please read and share if you would. We have put this same information together in print form and are happy to share these handouts. Contact us if you have a class, an organization, a house of worship, etc. where you’d like to share these.  

What is a Carbon Footprint?

Hopefully, we’ve all learned by now that the climate is changing due to humanity’s release of CO2 and other greenhouse gases (GHG) into the atmosphere. Each of us contributes to climate change. Our carbon footprint is a measure of that contribution.

The United States has a uniquely large carbon footprint. Per capital our GHG emissions are roughly twice that of other affluent countries (Germany, Japan, France, UK, etc.) and in the ballpark of 10-30 times that of developing nations (most of Africa, India, Indonesia, etc.). This means that we are not only most responsible for the Climate Crisis, but also best positioned to make a difference through changing our consumption patterns.

As you can see from the pie chart, we use a great deal of energy in our homes, for food production, in transporting ourselves about and embedded in the goods we consume. We offer herein some suggestions for shrinking one’s footprint. We recognize that each of us is in our own unique situation. Some of these tips might work well for you; others may not. While none of us can do everything, everybody can do something. Make positive changes where you can.

Reducing Home Energy Use:

We use energy in our homes to heat, cool, cook, heat water, run appliances, etc. It adds up to about 25 percent of our carbon footprint. Here are some ways to save some of that energy:
A great way to start is a home energy audit. Columbia Water & Light customers can get one for free.
Making sure your home is properly insulated and weatherized will save energy heating and cooling. Utilities have programs that can help homeowners with rebates and/or low interest loans.
Consider installing solar for electricity and water heating. Rebates are available.
Renters can also have audits done; can benefit in one season from weatherizing; and can encourage their landlords to insulate.
In general, turning things off when not in use is the cheapest and easiest thing one can do to save energy. Likewise, backing off heating and cooling when away or when sleeping can yield considerable savings.
When buying appliances, seek out Energy Star-certified units. More efficient appliances generally have quick pay-backs and end up saving both energy and money.
Newer refrigeration and AC units are much more efficient. If your current units are older, you might save money by retiring them sooner, rather than later.
Low-flow shower heads not only save water, they also save the energy used to heat water.
Line drying clothes reduces energy use significantly.
While this might not be an immediate option, downsizing to a smaller house, condo or apartment will, all else equal, save energy.

Transportation & Travel

Local transportation and travel combine to account for more than a quarter of our carbon footprint, on average. There are ways to reduce both.
Locating your residence close enough to work or school so you can walk or bike at least some of the time is a big help.
Choosing a fuel-efficient car can yield big savings. Hybrids or e-cars are worth checking out, if you can afford it.
Scooters or e-bikes work well for some.
Carpooling or using mass transit reduces footprints significantly.
When running errands make a plan that gets as much done as possible driving the fewest miles. Consider pairing up with a friend who also needs to go shopping, etc.
When it comes to longer distance travel, try, when possible, to avoid unnecessary trips. Some work-related tasks can be done by video conference, saving money and energy.
If possible, take a train rather than a plane.
Consider vacation destinations closer to home. The Ozarks are beautiful and close. Try a staycation, at least now and then.
If going longer distances, stay longer to make the most of the fuel burned to get you there. Fewer vacations of longer duration yield energy and monetary savings.

Greening-Up Our Diets

The food we eat (or waste) amounts to roughly 15 percent of our footprint. While dietary choices are often sensitive issues, and we are not aiming to tell you what to eat, or what not to, here are some suggestions to consider:
Consider eating lower on the food chain. That means less animal products, as these are the most energy/resource intensive of all foods. Try a vegetarian meal now and then. Alternatively try dishes in which meat is an ingredient, rather than the centerpiece of the meal.
Consider pasture-raised meat options, as growing grains and beans to feed to animals leads to a much larger carbon footprint.
Consider poultry, pork or fish, rather than beef or lamb, as ruminants produce large quantities of methane, a potent GHG.
Grow your own. Most of us won’t grow the bulk of our food, but growing what we can helps, and it is really satisfying, connecting us to the Earth.
Whenever you can, buy local and organic. Local has less embedded transportation energy. Organic methods lead to more carbon sequestration in the soil. Small scale production is also less mechanized, thus requires less fuel.
Fresh fruits in winter are often shipped by air from Chile. The transportation footprint for air freight is huge.
Through good planning do what you can to cut down on food waste. Roughly 33-40 percent of all food taken to market and roughly 20 percent of all food purchased by consumers goes to waste. Reducing waste means reducing GHG emissions.

Happy About Your Taxes?

In the era of Trump, tax policy is being used as a vehicle to engineer economic and social change, pretty much all of it to the detriment of the vast majority of our population, while benefiting primarily the most wealthy and powerful. The Trump/GOP-passed Tax Scam, while labeled “tax reform” is actually an upward redistribution of wealth, as well as a tool—due to the massive increases in the deficit it is producing—to facilitate the dismantling of programs that benefit society at large.

It’s widely acknowledged that very few people enjoy paying taxes. This said, there are two primary criteria which, if met, make most of us feel better when it comes time to file. First, taxes must be fairly levied. Second, the revenue must be spent in ways that benefit society as a whole.

Fair or Foul?

Let’s start with fairness. Some taxes are progressive, some flat and others regressive. Progressive taxes take into account ability to pay and require those most capable of paying more to pay at a higher rate. Regressive taxes are just the opposite. They take a larger percentage from those who are less able to afford it. And flat taxes assess everyone at the same rate.

An example of progressive taxation is a multi-bracket income tax system where there are stair-step tax rate increases for incomes above given levels. While U.S. income tax once was very progressive—and could be again—over recent decades the brackets have been repeatedly flattened and loopholes put in place that favor the well-heeled.

Warren Buffet, one of the richest people in the United States, famously observed that his income was taxed at a lower rate than his secretary’s. When unearned income, including capital gains, is taxed at a lower rate than income earned through wages and salaries, we end up with an unfair system in which the “rich get richer,” their money making money and largely avoiding taxation. Another example is the carried interest loophole, which allows hedge fund managers to pay a much lower tax rate on their often enormous incomes. Trump had promised to eliminate this, but his “reform” failed to include such a provision.

In fact, most of the Tax Scam benefits to working and middle class Americans are temporary, while those for corporations and the wealthy are permanent. According to the authoritative Tax Policy Center, after ten years 83 percent of the tax cuts would go to the top one percent, while 53 percent of the population would pay more than they would have without this “reform.” Real reform would have made our income tax system more progressive, not dramatically less so.

Sales tax is an example of a regressive tax, particularly when it is levied on necessities like food. While all who make purchases are taxed at the same rate, people of low or middle income spend a much larger portion of their incomes on taxable goods, while the wealthy often invest a goodly portion of their income in non-taxed purchases, including homes, or in financial assets like stocks and bonds.

Some politicians have proposed establishing a national sales tax and using this to replace income tax. This would be a big step in the wrong direction. Thankfully, it is not being pursued at the moment, but be aware that this scheme, often mislabeled as the “Fair Tax” is grossly unfair and should be, in our opinion, opposed if it resurfaces.

There are taxes that could be enacted that would be both progressive, in terms of charging based upon ability to pay, and also boast side benefits. One is a financial transactions tax; a small tax applied when financial assets are traded. You might recall that during Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign he proposed levying such a tax and using the proceeds to fund tuition-free education in public colleges and universities. Aside from the revenue gain, such a tax would encourage investments maintained for the medium to long-haul and discourage the sort of speculative buying and selling that has turned Wall St. into a casino.

Another beneficial tax is a Carbon Tax which is sometimes proposed to be revenue neutral and called a “carbon fee and dividend” system. This can be implemented by attaching a fee onto each unit of fossil fuel sold and then rebating the full amount collected to the public giving each person the same amount. This would encourage energy conservation and reward those who use less energy. Also, rich people generally use more energy, as they travel more, buy more things with energy embedded, have larger—and sometimes multiple—homes to heat, cool, etc., they would be paying in more in carbon fees. Since the rebates would be equal, not based upon energy consumption, this system would both create proper incentives and also redistribute downward.

Growing economic inequality is exacerbated by less progressive tax codes. Over the past four decades, inequality has been on the rise. Just looking at real (inflation adjusted) wages over the period from 1979-2016 wages for the bottom 90 percent increased by just 21percent, far less than the growth in productivity. The latter, which measures real output per hour worked, increased by more than 130 percent. While many low-income workers saw no wage gains at all, during this period wages for the top one percent increased by a whopping 257 percent. And this is only considering earned income. Income from investments, which are mainly the province of the well-to-do, are not included in these figures.

This growing inequality has marginalized tens of millions of people, shutting the door on the American Dream. Concentrating wealth is also bad for the economy as the ├╝ber-rich literally have more money than they can spend, while others lack the means to purchase all that the economy is able to produce.  The move from progressive to more regressive taxation has played a role in getting us to where we are today. While making taxation more progressive would not solve inequality, it would be a big step in the right direction.

Mending Our Spending?

We taxpayers are far more likely to feel positively about our taxes if, in addition to being fairly assessed, they also are spent in ways that benefits our society as a whole. Note: it’s not so much a matter of “Do I personally benefit from this spending?” as it is “Is our country better off overall?” One might not have kids, or kids who are attending public schools, but we are collectively better off when our nation is well educated, thus spending what’s needed to provide quality education for all is something we all must support.

Looking at the Federal budget we find that for FY 2017 fully 49 percent of discretionary spending went directly to the military.  When veterans’ benefits, intelligence, military foreign assistance programs and other such items are included, the total is closer to 60 percent. And the Pentagon budget was increased again for FY 2018.
Please consider that in 2016, the last year we have numbers for, the U.S. spent more on the military than the next eight largest spending nations, combined. And note that six of the eight were U.S. allies. It is likely that 2017 figures will show that we spent more than the next 12 largest spenders combined.

While the government and media call this “defense spending,” most of the spending has nothing at all to do with defending the country. Rather, most is spent “projecting power” around the world. The U.S. military is engaged in overt and covert wars and operations all across the globe. They aim to dominate on land, air and sea, plus space and the cyber-realm. This benefits the Military-Industrial Complex, but certainly not the average American.

The greatest real threats to our security come not from non-state actors or hostile powers, but rather from climate change and other human-caused impacts on the biosphere. We have often heard it said that wars in the future will be fought over water and food. If we aim to avoid this prophecy coming true, there are things we can, and must, do now. We here in the United States need to spend what’s needed to affect deep reductions in greenhouse gas emissions ASAP. We need to encourage and support the effort of other nations to do the same.

We also are more secure and healthier when we have clean air to breathe, clean water to drink and a decent supply of nutritious food, free from toxic chemicals. Spending in these areas benefits all of us as well.

Population is an underlying issue that must also concern us if we hope for a secure future. Human population, which did not reach 2 billion until approximately 1900, hit 3 billion around 1950 and is at 7.5 billion today; with projections of 9-10 billion by mid-century. Not only are there more of us, but our average level of consumption, and thus our average impact on the environment has increased significantly as well.

There are several things that have proven most important in addressing population growth. Most obviously, contraception needs to be readily available to all, as does the right to choose whether or not to continue a pregnancy. At least as important is the empowerment of women. Where women get to make decisions about childbearing, birth rates come down dramatically. Also very important is a strong social safety net that assures everyone that they will have enough to live on comfortably in their old age, without having to rely on their children.
While we need a stronger social safety net, Trumps budget proposals cut these programs dramatically.
 While climate change, a livable environment and stabilizing population are urgent priorities, there are many other areas where we should be spending more. Education and infrastructure are both near the top of that list. Funds directed into these areas are actually investments. They will more than pay for themselves over time. It is also essential that we ensure that Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other programs we collectively depend on are adequately funded and protected from cuts.

As we consider “mending our spending,” it would be good to look to the public as a whole for input. Sadly, today powerful corporate lobbies have much more to say about what does or doesn’t get funded than we, the people, do. We need to work hard to change this, and can do so by actively supporting and helping to fund the campaigns of those who are likely to listen to us.

There is no shortage of work to be done to address the unfair tax system and the misdirected spending priorities. Please recognize that these problems won’t be solved overnight. While the current administration has badly exacerbated the situation, things were already a mess before Trump was elected, and that, in fact, is part of the reason he was elected. It’s up to us now to articulate a positive vision and work as hard as we can to realize it.

Some Thorny Issues Often Overlooked

As we observe the fifteenth anniversary of the tragic U.S. War on Iraq, there are issues likely going unexamined in the mainstream media that we at Peaceworks think must be addressed.

First of all, the war was illegal under international law. It was a war of aggression made by our nation against another that had neither done anything to us, nor even threatened to do so. It was not authorized by the U.N. Security Council. In fact the Council was asked to authorize the war and refused to do so. Yet President Bush, Vice President Cheney, Sec. Rumsfeld, Sec. Powell, National Security Advisor Rice and other high officials all have walked away scot-free. None have been charged with the war crimes they are clearly guilty of.

Likewise, there has been no effort made to account for the harm done to the Iraqis; harm that continues to this day, nor to make reparations for these harms. We know that at least hundreds of thousands, and possibly as many as two million, died as a result of this illegal and immoral war. Our government intentionally did not keep track of the excess deaths due to the war. Nor did they accept responsibility for the rise in sectarian warfare that resulted directly from the war, including the rise of ISIS. We do know that approximately five million Iraqis were uprooted from their homes, about half left Iraq, seeking sanctuary in other nations and the other half were internally displaced.

The U.S. War on Iraq significantly destabilized the region, ironically increasing Iran’s influence and, in the process, fueling an arms race and power struggle between Iran and their Saudi neighbors. The U.S. invasion was ostensibly part of a Neo-Con effort to promote democracy throughout the region, but it clearly did not even begin to accomplish this, and, in reality, it was likely never a real objective of the war’s architects.

While the overwhelming majority of the casualties from the war were Iraqis, approximately 4,500 GIs have died in the Iraq War to date and more than 22,000 GIs were wounded in the war, which cost U.S. taxpayers trillions, with further costs to be incurred for decades to come. While other nations invested in their people, providing high quality, free education to their students, and invested in infrastructure, including renewable energy, our government has squandered lives and treasure, leaving us immiserated in the process. 

In the meantime those who participated in the war, and thus were also among its victims, have continued to be pawns exploited to further political agendas. When the war was at its peak, we were told to “Support our troops,” which was really just a clever way of insisting citizens “Support the war.” War proponents implied that those who opposed the war were undermining the morale of those who’d be sent to Iraq to kill and die. Actually, from Peaceworks’ perspective, the most supportive thing we could have done for those troops, who, like all of the American people, had been lied to regarding the threat of Iraqi WMD, was to bring them home safe and alive ASAP.

Now many of those who participated in the Iraq War have returned home. Far too many have had their lives turned upside down due to the war. A significant percentage struggle with PTSD; many others have physical disabilities that will affect them the rest of their lives. Those who’ve been to war are more likely to be homeless and to struggle with substance abuse problems.

Yet they are a convenient prop for pols who constantly declare their support for these “brave young men and women” who they always tell us went to war to “defend our freedom.” It’s up to us to set the record straight and point out that, while these vets generally volunteered based upon wanting to serve their country, in reality none of what they were sent to do in Iraq had anything at all to do with defending the country. In fact, no U.S. war over the past seven decades has been about defending our nation.

The responsibility for war crimes lies with those at the top who gave the orders. We should neither blame those who were hoodwinked into participating in this illegal war, nor should we hold them up as positive role models. Clearly we need better education—teaching critical thinking skills—and media that asks the tough questions and presents all perspectives.

In the buildup to the Iraq War, despite the news blackout of anti-war voices, tens of millions of us spoke out and raised concerns. We questioned the claims of WMD. We foresaw the likelihood of a destabilized region and many years of conflict. We raised concerns regarding the legality of making war on Iraq. And we talked about the costs in life, limb, resources and money.

Those politicians who supported going to war against Iraq should be held accountable for their lack of good judgment and character. And those who went to war and now are in office or seeking office should not be allowed to use their participation in this immoral, illegal and counterproductive war as a resume builder and qualification for office. Unfortunately, many, on both sides of the aisle are trying to do just this.

As we’ve seen with the Vietnam War, there is often an effort on the part of the militarists to rewrite history and convince us of the legitimacy of wars that the public, long ago, realize were, at the very least, counterproductive and not in our national interests. It’s incumbent upon us to reject such rewriting and move forward having learned useful lessons and applying them to insure that there is no repeat of the tragedy that is the Iraq War.

Addressing Perpetual War

In recent years the peace movement has often felt like a neglected stepchild, largely ignored by many left-liberal groups. It seems that ending war and militarism is just not on their agenda. When the Women’s March was organized at the time of Trump’s inauguration, opposition to war was not on their radar. Although it was added to the mission statement, it’s received little attention and is not among the eight Unity Principles on their website. And among many politicians otherwise deemed “progressive” we’ve seen no sense of urgency regarding ending the “endless war” or even for beating some swords into plowshares.

Of course it wasn’t always this way. During the later years of the Bush administration the Iraq War became an albatross around the neck of the GOP. Many citizens were deeply opposed to the war. So, a goodly number of Democratic politicians, including Barack Obama, made ending the U.S. role in Iraq a significant plank in their platforms.

But Obama’s opposition to the Iraq War did not represent a broader rejection of U.S. militarism and the Military-Industrial Complex (MIC) that Eisenhower warned the nation against back in 1961. Obama, in spite of his Nobel Peace Prize, dramatically escalated drone warfare, surged troops to Afghanistan, bombed seven predominantly Muslim nations, intervened in Libya, Syria, Somalia and numerous other countries and initiated a trillion-dollar nuclear weapons modernization program.

The lack of meaningful progress on the peace front during Obama’s eight years in office is really no surprise. There has been a continuity of support for global hegemony throughout the entire post-WWII era. While there have been outliers here and there, the mainstream of both major parties has supported massive military budgets and the dominant presence of the U.S. military on every continent, in every ocean, in the skies, in outer space and in the cyber realm. The military calls this “Full Spectrum Dominance.”

During the Cold War the supposed threat of Communism was the justification for super-sized budgets and a continuous stream of wars and interventions—some overt, others covert or proxy—none of which had anything to do with defending the United States—and none of which ended in victory. These were sold to the American people as being fought to “defend freedom” or “support democracy.”

After the Cold War ended it became more difficult to justify such a massive military. Post-9/11 the need to fight a “war on terror” became the rationale, although the purported enemy was a ragtag non-state actor with no territory, no military assets and only a handful of fighters. What was never acknowledged was the reality that the growth in so-called “Islamist terror groups” was largely blowback — that is, the result of and reaction to U.S. intervention in the region.

Enter Donald Trump

While the left was appalled by the positions Trump took on virtually all issues, his neo-isolationist campaign rhetoric led some to believe that perhaps he’d be less interventionist than Hillary Clinton. Unfortunately, the President is quite different from Trump on the stump. He has surrounded himself with generals and repeatedly threatened to blow North Korea off the face of the Earth.

Trump campaigned on the bogus claim that the U.S. military was “depleted,” and in office, he has pushed massive increases in the Pentagon budget. Sadly, a bipartisan majority in Congress gave him all he asked for and then some. The administration had requested upping the military budget for fiscal year 2018 (FY18) to $668 billion, an increase of $57 billion from the FY17 appropriation of $611 billion. Congress ended up authorizing $700 billion, adding $32 billion to the Pentagon’s request. The Senate vote was 89 to eight, with most Democrats, including our own Claire McCaskill, joining their GOP colleagues in showering extra billions on the military.

It is worth noting that, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, the FY17 appropriation exceeded the military spending of the next eight largest spenders combined, six of which are U.S. allies. And the increase means that in 2018, U.S. taxpayers will be footing the bill for a military that costs more than the next 11 top spenders combined. Note, too, the “military budget,” which devours more than half of all discretionary federal spending, does not include the CIA, Veterans Administration, military disabilities and many other expenses.
Donald Trump at the Pentagon, January 18, 2018
The Complex

So, why is the MIC ascendant in the U.S.A.? Who benefits and how?

While a definitive answer is hard to pin down, a few possibilities, not mutually exclusive, include: A dominant military position goes hand in glove with the control of global financial institutions; it backs up control of resources, markets and labor in less developed countries by U.S. and transnational corporations. Geopolitical dominance assures the ability to intervene at will in conflicts, either directly, as in Libya, or by proxy, as in Yemen, or both, as in Syria.

A military that is involved in frequent conflicts is one that gets to test weapons in the field of battle. New technology provides a competitive edge both in combat and also in the world arms trade. Selling military hardware is very profitable. This is one of just a handful of markets in which U.S. firms are still dominant.

Having an adversary that can be portrayed as a threat is helpful in efforts to rally the populace around the flag and the government, which is seen as a protector of the safety of the nation. As Orwell put it, “War is peace.”

So, the Complex feeds forward. The contractors benefit. They spend tens of millions each election cycle on candidates and have spent more than a billion this decade on lobbying. Their return on this “investment” is huge, profits in the tens and hundreds of billions. Congress gets the donations and it also brings home the pork, military bases and contracts in their states or districts. An example, the Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter is being produced by contractors in 46 of the 50 states. Even Bernie Sanders supports this program, as it provides jobs in Vermont. And the military, like any bureaucracy, thrives on an expanded role, more jobs, promotions, resources and a more central role in our culture.

Costs & Benefits

Militarist cheerleaders love to point out that the Complex provides a significant number of jobs. There is some truth here, given the massive amount being spent. But consider that, beyond spending sufficient to provide reasonable defense, military expenditures provide no benefit; they don’t protect us or the environment; they fail utterly to improve our quality of life. Unlike infrastructure, they are not an investment in our future.

Moreover, military spending is capital intensive and produces far fewer jobs than spending in most other sectors.  A 2011 study by Robert Pollin and Heidi Garrett-Peltier of the Political Economy Research Institute found that dollar for dollar, green energy spending produces 16 percent more jobs than military spending. Healthcare produces 31 percent more. And education yields a whopping 125 percent more. And these are investments in a brighter future.

Speaking of education, consider that the $89-billion increase in military spending from FY17 to FY18 exceeds the $75-billion estimated incremental cost of making public colleges tuition-free, as Bernie Sanders proposed. And of course there are so many other unmet needs that we could be meeting if we reined in the Pentagon’s blank-check budget.

On the flip side, the GOP tax cuts for the wealthy are going to swell the deficit and provide a rationale for putting Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and many other programs on the chopping block. Clearly we’d do better to cut the military instead.

The Bottom Line

Why, you may ask, does the U.S. need a military with global reach? Other nations – China, Japan, Germany and others – seem to be doing quite well maintaining militaries sufficient to defend their countries from attack, but without establishing bases or maintaining fleets in every part of the world.

The simple answer is, “we don’t, but they—the MIC—do.” The citizenry would be far better off if our nation abandoned the role of global hegemon, led the world into multilateral disarmament negotiations, and redirected billions into investments in our people and infrastructure. The trick is finding a way to mobilize millions of citizens to unite behind a broad progressive platform that includes making the move away from militarism, and finding the points of political leverage to advance this agenda. All much easier said than done, but we at Peaceworks invite you to join in this struggle to create a more peaceful, just and sustainable future for everyone.

This article was written by Peaceworks Director Mark Haim. A slightly different version of the essay was published in the New York-based Indypendent at CLICK HERE.