We’re Down, but We’re Not Licked

By Peter Bergel

Recently my email brought two items on the same day which, when I put them together, seemed like a strong message for Independence Day.

The first was a New York Times article (reprinted in The PeaceWorker on June 16) about how a British firm is preparing to bring appropriate technology to the U.S. to “do well by doing good” in the area of

Comparison of World's Biggest Military Spenders

conserving energy. The second was the graph at the right showing the one area where the U.S. really is number one.


I Have a Dream…

What if – I thought – after 9/11 we had decided to revenge ourselves not on Afghanis and Iraqis who had done us no harm, but on Saudi Arabia, from which country the 9/11 attackers actually hailed? What if — assuming you don’t buy the “capture the terrorists” justification for the U.S. attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq — we had decided to choose a different tool than war to defend our energy supply?

We could have spent some portion of the difference between the 2001 military budget of approximately $350 billion annually and today’s military budget of $700+ billion on developing a domestic green energy supply. It could have amounted to hundreds of billions a year and still left us with a larger military budget than the next 5 military big spenders put together (and remember: none of those big spenders are our enemies). It could have funded a Manhattan Project-style, trillion-dollar effort to attain energy independence. By today, it is likely that we would have achieved our goal, or at least have made great strides toward doing so.

We could have eliminated the waste from our entire national energy budget through intensified conservation efforts. We could have embarked on a nationally subsidized crash program of building and developing solar, wind, wave and biomass energy sources. We could have begun the transition to electric vehicles, while investing in high-speed trains and converting much of our freight from fossil-fueled trucks back to rail. We could have localized commerce, food production and labor, saving many jobs as well as energy. A trillion bucks can go a long way if spent anywhere but on the military.

We might have sacrificed our ability to conduct 3 wars at once, but after all, most of us don’t support those wars anyway and besides, since they are being fought mostly to assure our access to oil, we would no longer need them.

What We Got Instead

As it is, we’ve got a British firm coming to Pennsylvania to make big bucks by competing with homegrown energy conservation specialists for the conservation market, which they believe is a huge growth opportunity. “The United States was a nearly untouched market with 120 million homes, most of them very energy-inefficient — it was a massive opportunity,” said the company’s commercial director.

So who won and who lost? The winners were the military contractors who cleaned up on the wars and war prep. The losers?The rest of us. Oh, a few of us got jobs for military contractors, but as many of our other jobs as possible were shipped abroad where the labor was cheaper. Now we’re ten years further along and we’re looking at worsening climate change while the money to address it was squandered on a military that uses more energy than any other outfit in the world.

We got a military that spends about as much as all the other militaries on the planet put together. The worst problem with that is that “if your only tool is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” If you’ve put most of your marbles in the military bucket, every problem appears to call for a military response. While other countries are busily trying to get ahead in the global marketplace, addressing the world’s pressing environmental problems, finding jobs for their people and providing their citizens with universal health care, we have only one solution for everything – a war on something: drugs, terror, poverty, etc. – and none of these wars is going any better than the ones in the Middle East.

What to Do?

  1. Believe in yourself. Americans seem to have lost the self-confidence that was once the hallmark of our nation the world around. We believed we could build a world-leading country and we did. We believed we could walk on the moon and we did. We believed we could become the world’s economic engine and we did. Can we now believe that we can make the changes the 21st century calls for? These are challenging and difficult changes for challenging and difficult times, but can’t we regain the can-do spirit that served us well in the past?
  2. Get off your knees. It is time for us to stop begging our political and corporate masters for a little more this or a little less that. It is time for us to declare ourselves free of the slavery we have allowed ourselves to fall into and take power back into our own hands.
  3. Join with your neighbors. We don’t need a national party or a global organization to direct our efforts. We have enormous people resources in every community and at every level. These leaders are we ourselves – not our politicians and plutocrats. Respect your peers and their efforts. The world is full of people who want change toward a world that works for everyone.
  4. Dedicate yourself to at least one project that improves the world. The work is crucial, but the attitude of species and planetary loyalty is even more crucial right now. You’re more than welcome – and needed – in Oregon PeaceWorks’ projects, but if you are more drawn to a different kind of work, then do that!
  5. See your work as part of a global effort to – literally – save the world. Read the vision that is articulated in the Earth Charter and understand the importance of the work you do it the context of that vision.

If You Do These Things, You Will Be:

  1. Making an important contribution to the evolutionary step forward that humanity needs to take at this point in its history.
  2. Giving your children and grandchildren a better chance to live in the kind of world that human beings evolved in.
  3. Helping humankind deserve a better future than we have made for ourselves over the past few decades.
  4. Helping change the dominant paradigm from one based on growth to one based on sustainability and from one based on domination to one based on cooperation. That is the shift that our species needs to make, and make very soon. Φ

Peter Bergel is the Executive Director of Oregon PeaceWorks and the editor of The PeaceWorker online news magazine. He has been working for social change for half a century.

Leave a Reply