In his State of the Union address, President Obama opened a door through which the peace, labor and environmental movements should march, towards an energy future not dependent on resource wars.
This is our generation’s “Sputnik moment,” he said, adding, “our Apollo project.”
Obama called for one million electric cars on the road in four years, 80 percent of our energy needs met by clean energy in two decades, high-speed rail by 2035 and, starting immediately, 100,000 math and science teachers. “To help pay for it,” the president added, “I’m asking Congress to eliminate the billions in taxpayer dollars we currently give to oil companies.”
There’s a fight that should be fought, a fight in which progressives can only gain ground. The present wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are wars for oil, natural gas and pipelines— “resource wars,” as Gen. Alexander Haig said years ago. They also are wars for bases in strategic locations in the global Long War which devours $120 billion every year—just for Afghanistan. The sad irony is that the United States now spends tax dollars developing solar energy for remote military bases in the Long War.
Every president through Obama has called for energy independence. But the dependence continues to grow. Preserving the unstable gulf states, under the Carter Doctrine, is a matter of national security. The secret special relationship with the Saudi oil family has not changed. The festering hostility towards Iran and Venezuela originated over oil. Afghanistan is called Pipelinestan by those in the know.
Does Obama know this sordid history? You can bet on it. Will he do anything about it? His State of the Union might be understood as a cry for help in avoiding the fate of other national politicians who focused too much on conservation. Al Gore was derided as a dreamer. When Carter spoke of our “national malaise,” the political and national security elites laughed him away. When Jerry Brown launched California on the path to conservation and renewable resources, his possible path to the presidency was derailed by hacks who still call him “Governor Moonbeam.”
Obama knows the road is hard. His effort to an energy bill out of the Senate failed. His top renewable energy adviser, Carol Browner, has resigned for reasons unclear. The new Congress is more hostile than ever.
So his speech this week must be considered a speech to the American people, and to his base, not a proposal the House of Dinosaurs will act on. But it points a path for labor, environmentalists, innovative businesses, progressive governors and legislators and advocates of peace.
Most environmentalists deeply dislike Obama’s endorsement of nuclear energy as an option. I understand better than most, having opposed nuclear power from Sacramento to Harrisburg since 1978. The nuclear option is a scam on the taxpayers, will take decades to bring on line, and has no solution to waste disposal.
But here’s how to think of nuclear power politically: it may be necessary to Obama’s package, but it can be fought in Congress, state by state, site by site. The most important fight is over incentives and funding for conservation and renewables.
So here’s what people can do today. Sign up as a supporter of the Apollo Alliance, a project originated by the Sierra Club and the Steelworkers several years ago, now active in many states. Don’t expect the Apollo Alliance to become an arm of the peace movement. That’s our job. But as we oppose these wars, we need to be developing credible energy alternatives. And we can make alliances locally, where nearly everyone who supports conservation and solar also opposes the wars.
The grassroots can demand also that federal budget cuts should come from the trillion-dollar costs of the unwinnable wars instead of slashing pensions, health benefits and social programs. It’s lunacy, and a political gift to the neoconservatives, to believe that the government can reduce deficits by subsidizing unfunded wars. Peace activists should meet with seniors, local labor councils, social service agencies, and police and firefighters to fund practical ways to oppose Afghanistan and reinvest in security at home. Go to the website for Nationalpriorities.com, and residents in your town will be astonished at how the war is sucking the lifeblood out of our communities. The annual budget for Afghanistan and Iraq, for example, could easily pay for solar photovoltaic installations for 150 million American families per year.
From the bottom up, a new convergence is possible. Peace activists can be catalysts and, in the process, start to organize again.