Working towards peace and sustainability

Trump, Korea, Nuclear Weapons & More

There are many pressing concerns regarding Korea and nuclear weapons that need to be addressed and contextualized. While many people have been critical of Trump’s summit meeting with Kim, few seem to have satisfying answers to the conundrum of “denuclearization.” What exactly does that mean? How would it be accomplished?

For starters, Peaceworks opposes nuclear weapons and would like to see them abolished, mutually, verifiably and universally. The question is how we get from here to there.

Please consider that our government and those of other nuclear armed states are universally opposed to nuclear proliferation—that is the spread of nukes to currently non-nuclear states—but have been consistently and steadfastly opposed to giving up their own nuclear capabilities. When the so-called “Ban Treaty,” which would outlaw all nuclear weapons came before the United Nations last summer, 123 nations supported it (out of 178), but not one of the nine nuclear-armed states got on board with a yes vote.

It is also worthy of note that the United States is legally bound by the Non-Proliferation Treaty, signed in 1968 and ratified in 1970. Ratified treaties are, under the U.S. Constitution, deemed “the highest law of the land,” but our government consistently ignores Article VI which reads:

“Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.”

The U.S., however, has not taken the Treaty seriously, except to use it to pressure non-nuclear states. In fact, through its periodic Nuclear Posture Reviews, the U.S. has made clear its intention to maintain a nuclear arsenal in perpetuity. And our government has adopted a $1.2 trillion plan to “modernize” their nuclear weapons capabilities. These actions are fueling a new arms race with Russia and China. This is very costly, dangerous and completely unnecessary.

And this “do as I say, not as I do” double standard creates an incentive for non-nuclear states to “go nuclear” and obtain a deterrent to discourage aggression along the lines we saw when the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003 or when the U.S. led the NATO assault on Libya in 2011. Both of these regime-change wars have devastated the countries they ostensibly were out to help and left both countries divided and embroiled in violent conflict to this day.

North Korea in Historic Context

Understanding the history of nuclear weapons, and the establishment of a world of nuclear-haves and nuclear-have-nots, partially helps to explain why North Korea sought these horribly destructive weapons, if for no other purpose than a deterrent to superpower aggression.

It also might help to recall that the Korean War—fought between 1950-53—resulted in a massive loss of life. Estimates are that as many as three million North Koreans, or 20 percent of their population, lost their lives. The U.S. engaged in a nearly unbelievable bombing campaign that included the use of more than half a million tons of bombs as well as napalm. As Air Force General Curtis LeMay, head of the strategic air command during the Korean War, put it, “We went over there and fought the war and eventually burned down every town in North Korea.”

No North Korean family was unscathed and this helps explain their animosity towards and fear of the United States. It also helps to understand why they find the huge U.S.-South Korean war games right on their doorstep as threatening; it is always possible that, under the pretense of an exercise, their adversaries could launch a surprise attack.

Trump on Korea

Donald Trump’s foreign policy in general has been erratic at best, and, in many cases very destructive. He has pulled the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Accord and the Iran Nuclear Agreement, two important steps forward undertaken under President Obama. And, in moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, he has enflamed the Israel-Palestine conflict. He has insulted foreign leaders, including major U.S. allies, while heaping high praise on brutal despots. He’s continued and expanded existing wars and threatened new ones. And it seems like he sees one of his main jobs on the world stage as being an arms salesman, hawking the wares of the Military-Industrial Complex hither and yon.

Perhaps the most disconcerting moments of his presidency came in his war of words with North Korea in 2017. No one can forget his threat that the North Koreans “will be met with fire and the fury like the world has never seen,” or his taunting dismissal of Kim Jong Un as “little rocket man” and “a sick puppy.” He not only threatened to unleash a nuclear attack that would “totally destroy North Korea,” in an adolescent outburst he stated “I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!”

Measured against the pushing-to-the-brink-of-nuclear-war position we were in in 2017, Trump’s current diplomacy with North Korea is a big improvement. Even if the results of their summit were more photo-op than substance, it is far better to be sitting down and talking, than it is to be threatening what should be unthinkable, the launching a nuclear war.

The Joint Statement signed at the end of the summit is quite vague. It includes a pledge that the “DPRK commits to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” but there is no explanation as to what “complete denuclearization” means, on what timeline it would be attained, how this would be verified, etc. There is also no indication whether or not “complete denuclearization” includes the removal of nuclear-armed U.S. military forces from South Korea or the waters surrounding Korea. As such, this is pretty hollow rhetoric. But hollow rhetoric is an improvement over bellicose rhetoric.

Trump has also come in for significant criticism for “giving without getting.” It is noted that he agreed to cancel U.S.-South Korean joint military exercises with no corresponding concession by the North Koreans. In point of fact, these exercises, or war games, should never have been held in the first place. As Trump noted, they are “provocative.” Mobilizing tens of thousands of troops, on land, in the air and on the sea and staging mock invasions close to the border of another country is clearly unacceptable, and, due to the ambiguous nature of the mobilization could easily be suspected of providing cover for an actual military assault. Imagine how the U.S. would have reacted during the Cold War if Cuba and the Soviet Union held similar exercises off the coast of Florida.

What Do the Korean People Want?

While it is hard to know what the people of North Korea want, as it is not an open society, we know from multiple polls that the overwhelming majority of South Koreans want an end to the tensions, a peace treaty ending the Korean War, mutual recognition and steps toward disarmament. In fact, a recent poll found that 88.4 percent of South Koreans support the April 27 Panmunjom Declaration, which calls for peace between the two Koreas and steps toward disarmament. Their wishes seem to dovetail with those of many in the Korean diaspora, which were laid out in a pre-summit Statement of Unity by Korean Americans and Allies.

Will North Korea disarm? Time will tell. But it is, of course, not just up to the North Korean leadership. A lot depends upon how they perceive the intentions of the United States. It would clearly be more likely that they would make moves in this direction if they saw a de-escalation of tensions and moves toward making peace. On the other hand, seeing the U.S. reject other agreements, including the Iran Nuclear Agreement and the Paris Accord, does not help. If Donald Trump really wants a Nobel Peace Prize, he will clearly have to do more than just have one meeting gushing praise on an autocratic leader. Rather, the U.S. will have to do its part to create an atmosphere of mutual trust.

And liberals and those on the Left, while standing firm against Trump’s overall agenda, need to recognize that, just as a stopped clock tells the right time a couple of times a day, so, too, can some of Trump’s actions be worthy of saluting. Bernie Sanders gets this, and in a prepared statement, while noting it was “very light on substance,” he declared the Singapore meeting “a positive step in de-escalating tensions between our countries, addressing the threat of North Korea’s nuclear weapons and moving toward a more peaceful future.”  He further stated, “Congress has a key role to play in making sure this is a meaningful process, not just a series of photo ops.” While tentative, we agree, and urge others to support steps to peace.

We Need a Robust CAAP

The City of Columbia is working to establish a Climate Action and Adaptation Plan. As part of this process, a public workshop will be held from 5:30-7:30 p.m., Tuesday, May 22. (Click HERE for more info.) Peaceworks encourages all concerned about the Climate Crisis to turn out for this event, if possible, as your participation is crucial to demonstrate community concern.

In anticipation of this event we have put together a document that outlines some of the concerns Peaceworks hopes will be addressed in the CAAP. We are posting the introduction to this document below, and you can view the whole document by clicking HERE.

As Columbia works to draft and adopt a Climate Action and Adaptation Plan (CAAP), those of us deeply concerned about the existential threat that climate change poses are eager to see our community become a true climate action leader. This is a classic case of thinking globally and acting locally and it is high time we rise to the occasion. Columbia can be an exemplar to communities throughout our state and beyond, inspiring actions elsewhere that will magnify the impact of our local actions.

When thinking of a CAAP, there are several key dimensions to consider. First, while converting our entire energy economy will take decades, we need to commence action as quickly as possible. We need to develop a timeline that leads us to significant, incremental reductions in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the near and mid-terms, as well as net zero emissions in the longer run.

The CoMo CAAP must be aspirational—embodying a clean energy, sustainable vision—but it also needs to be pragmatic. The CAAP must be more than just a set of goals. It must be a roadmap laying out the actions to achieve the goals. It also needs to address the question of funding. How will the necessary transition be financed? Here are a few tentative thoughts regarding the CAAP.

Click HERE to read more.

Speak Out Regarding the Violence in Israel-Palestine.

People of conscience and good intention often need to agree to disagree. When it comes to Israel-Palestine, some favor a two-state solution, while others favor a bi-national, secular state for all of historic Palestine.

But, whatever one’s vision of a just settlement might be, it is undeniable that the continued occupation and settlement of the West Bank and the continued blockade of Gaza are in violation of international law and are unacceptable. This path only leads to further conflict, violence and suffering.

It is also undeniable that, regardless of one’s position on maintaining the Israel-Gaza border, if the Israeli military simply wanted to keep the people of Gaza from crossing the border, this could have been done without resort to lethal violence. Now, with many dozens killed and literally thousands wounded through the use of live ammunition, Israel’s actions have, once again, tragically left large numbers of Palestinians bereaved. Their suffering has been great for many decades. Until this long train of unjust actions is recognized and steps taken to address the harm done, there will be no peace.

Israel’s actions only make enemies and, as a result, make a near-term negotiated settlement of this festering conflict ever less likely. And this might be exactly what Netanyahu wants. But, in reality, besides the continuing harm done to the Palestinians, this rejectionist response is not in Israel’s interest and it is certainly not in the U.S.’s interest.

We are painfully aware that the Trump administration has given Israel’s rightwing government virtually everything they want, from trashing the Iran Nuclear Deal, to moving the embassy to Jerusalem to continuing the billions in military aid the U.S. supplies annually.

We, at Peaceworks, are urging you, our members and supporters, to speak out. Please communicate with our Federal elected officials and share your concerns for a peaceful and just resolution to this long-term conflict. You can find contact info for the President, our Missouri U.S. Senators, and our U.S. Reps if you click HERE.

Please speak out today. Remember, silence is the voice of complicity.

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.