Speech delivered to the Channel City Club of Santa Barbara on April 14, 2008
We are at an unprecedented moment in human history. We stand on the precipice of not one or two global crises, but many.
The world stands at the tipping point of human security, nuclear disaster as well as climate chaos. We are living at a dangerous period in world politics. We are witnessing unprecedented assaults on the rule of law, human rights and civil liberties, and our politicians are no longer being held accountable for their deceptions and failures.
What happens next will be determined by our actions. These issues have a pressing urgency, an urgency that demands radical and complete reform of the way we see the world and the way we live our lives.
The Iraq war
In 2003, we were told that Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction represented an immediate and serious danger to world security. But now we know there were no weapons of mass destruction.
In 2003, we were told that Saddam Hussein was collaborating with al-Qaeda. We now know that this was a deception. Al-Qaeda was never in Iraq under Saddam Hussein – but it is now.
In 2003, we were told that world security depended on the removal of the Iraqi government. But the world has now become a far more dangerous place, thanks to the invasion of Iraq. Its consequences can be seen in every corner of the globe: international terrorism has flourished in defiance of George W. Bush.
Historian Marilyn Young noted in early April 2003, with the invasion of Iraq barely underway: “In less than two weeks, a 30 year old vocabulary is back: credibility gap, seek and destroy, hard to tell friend from foe, civilian interference in military affairs, the dominance of domestic politics, winning, or more often, losing hearts and minds.”
I would like to briefly speak about the legacy of the Iraq War. Let us look at the balance sheet:
- Based on the figures of the Lancet study, approximately a million Iraqi civilians have died – a figure that eclipses even the genocide in Rwanda.
- Over 4,000 US soldiers have died.
- Approximately 30,000 US soldiers have been seriously wounded.
- Over four million refugees have been created: two million of them have fled the country, and approximately 2.5 million have been internally displaced
- Based on estimates from the congressional budget office, the cost of the war to the U.S. is in the trillions
- In 2008, U.S. Monthly Spending in Iraq is estimated at $12 billion
- In February 2007, Congressional hearings placed the amount of money mismanaged and wasted in Iraq at $10 billion
- The Pentagon have classified $1.4 billion of Halliburton’s charges as “unreasonable and unsupported”
- Human rights abuses have been permitted and even perpetrated by the occupying nations. These include the torture and abuse at Abu Ghraib.
- The price of oil has quadrupled since 2002. Today it is $110 a barrel.
What is so astonishing about these stories and statistics is that the politicians responsible for them have not been held accountable. Despite the fact that the war has been an unqualified disaster, they have not been called to account. If George W. Bush and Tony Blair had presided as CEOs over comparable deceptive and fraudulent practices in the city, they would have been immediately and unceremoniously sacked.
We have entered a dangerous period in world politics – one where our politicians are no longer being held accountable for their mistakes, or for their deceptions. We have become complicit in a series of secret, underhand “dirty tactics” in the war on terror. This must stop.
Iraq was, from the outset, an It was an illegal, immoral and unwinnable war.
We have failed to provide security. We have failed to provide good governance. We have failed in our efforts at reconstruction.
Iraq today is less secure and less stable than it was under Saddam Hussein – but although Saddam was a vile and brutal dictator, even under him, Iraq did not have 2 million people flee the country and 2.5 million people internally displaced.
So where does this leave us? With a world that is uncertain and more dangerous.
But Iraq is not the only thing making the world unsafe. We live in a world in which the deadly menace of nuclear weapons is rearing its ugly head as a very real threat to the continued existence of the human race.
The nuclear threat
In January 2007, an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal called “World Free of Nuclear Weapons” said: “Nuclear weapons today present tremendous dangers, but also an historic opportunity. U.S. leadership will be required to take the world to the next stage – to a solid consensus for reversing reliance on nuclear weapons globally as a vital contribution to preventing their proliferation into potentially dangerous hands, and ultimately ending them as a threat to the world.”
Now who would have thought that I would be quoting Henry Kissinger, George P. Schultz, William J. Perry and Sam Nunn?
But perhaps you should not be surprised. The nuclear issue is not a partisan political issue. It is reassuring to see some of the most conservative figures in both the UK and the USA supporting complete nuclear disarmament.
Some of you may know that Ronald Reagan was strongly opposed to nuclear weapons. Reagan called for the abolition of “all nuclear weapons,” which he considered “totally irrational, totally inhumane, good for nothing but killing, possibly destructive of life on earth and civilisation.”
The strategy of defending the manufacture and stockpiling of nuclear weapons, as an effective deterrent to others, is now recognised as a flawed argument. If they were once justified, as a means of American-Soviet deterrence, they are no longer. Nuclear weapons were considered essential to maintaining international security during the cold war, but that is no longer the case.
Mohammed El-Baradei, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, was quoted as saying, “We need to treat nuclear weapons the way we treat slavery or genocide. There needs to be a taboo over possessing them.”
But it is not only that our governments are violating international agreements that they themselves signed. They are also acting with arrogance and carelessness when it comes to handling the weapons they have already. Even the supposedly most advanced nations can be alarmingly lax when it comes to the security precautions in place for nuclear weapons.
Senator Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, called the unbelievable US Army security failure last August, in which six nuclear warheads were inadvertently removed from their bunkers and flown from North Dakota to Louisiana, “unprecedented”. Owing to “a lack of attention to detail and lack of adherence to well-established Air Force guidelines, technical orders and procedures”, for thirty-six hours, no-one knew where the warheads were, or even that they were missing.
Each of the warheads contained ten times the yield of that dropped on Hiroshima at the end of the Second World War. No breach of nuclear procedures of this magnitude had ever occurred before. Surely it is only a matter of time before an error like this becomes a disaster. Commentators have blamed this failure on the US Army’s reduced nuclear focus in recent years. Why, I would argue, not go the whole way? Why not do away with nuclear weapons altogether?
The tolerance for error when it comes to nuclear weapons is very low – in fact, it is zero. But zero tolerance cannot realistically be achieved, which is another reason why immediate and worldwide disarmament is such an important, and a pressing, priority. Governor Schwarzenegger said, “Mistakes are made in every other human endeavour. Why should nuclear weapons be exempt?”
My good friend David Krieger, President of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, noted in an article earlier this year that “even Edward Teller, father of the H-Bomb, recognized, ‘Sooner or later a fool will prove greater than the proof, even in a foolproof system.’”
We have come to the point where something has to give. South Africa is to be heartily applauded for its total disarmament, which was officially declared in 1994, following an inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency. In order to affect real change globally, we now need one of the major powers to follow suit.
The question has now become: “Who’s going to give them up first?” When they consider their responses to our pleas, politicians would do well to keep in mind the words of two men.
The first is Dwight D. Eisenhower, who pledged America’s determination “to devote its entire heart and mind to find the way by which the miraculous inventiveness of man shall not be dedicated to his death, but consecrated to his life.”
The second is a man who knows as much about nuclear weapons as anyone, Mikhail Gorbachev. He said that “that the infinite and uncontrollable fury of nuclear weapons should never be held in the hands of any mere mortal ever again, for any reason.”
But nuclear weapons are not the only thing making the world unsafe.
Now, I would like to address the problem of climate change – or, as is more accurate, climate chaos. The problem of climate chaos touches every area of our lives: peace, security, human rights, poverty, hunger, health, mass migration, and economics. Climate change is not an isolated environmental issue any more.
At the United Nations Framework Conference on Climate Change in Bali last December, I spoke of climate chaos in terms of global justice. That is how I see the issue: we need to fight climate change along with global inequality if we want to find lasting and sustainable solutions. To attempt to address the causes of climate change, we must not overlook the developing countries of the world.
“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth is revolutionary,” George Orwell once said.
Despite the clear and urgent alarms sounded by our most respected scientists, the developed world continues to feed its out-of-control oil addiction. We are locked into an inefficient, pollution-based economy, which is undermining public health and the environment, aggravating inequality and turning us into oil predators.
Rather than face the pressing challenges of the 21st century, some world leaders continue to systematically eliminate vital environmental protection laws and regulations. In the U.S., for example, the Environmental Protection Agency has been gutted. And, as you know, the Bush administration refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, whilst focusing on oil and natural gas production. Representatives of the military-petroleum complex have been defining Washington’s economic policies. Their undeniable aim is to dominate the world’s energy resources; oil and natural gas.
As consumers of oil, we must realise that oil consumption is effectively destroying the environment and communities, especially in places inhabited by indigenous populations and marginalised groups who have little or no economic and political power to defend themselves.
I would like to quote a passage from “View of Dusk at the end of the Century, from Eduardo Galeano, 1998.
Poisoned is the earth that inters or deters us. There is no air, only despair; no breeze, only sleaze. No rain, except acid rain. No parks, just parking lots. No partners only partnerships. Companies instead of nations. Consumers instead of citizens. Conglomerations instead of cities. No people only audiences. No relations, except public relations. No vision, just television. To praise a flower, say “It looks plastic…”
There is no denying it: the rich world is causing climate change and the poor world is suffering. The industrial countries that have pioneered fossil fuel technology are primarily in the cold north, while the warmer countries of the south still use far less oil, gas and coal. As climate change kicks in, the tropical and subtropical countries of Africa, South Asia and Latin America will heat up more and more, with temperatures becoming increasingly intolerable. Droughts will affect large parts of Africa, Asia and Latin America. Melting glaciers will flood river valleys and then, when they have disappeared, unprecedented droughts will occur. Poor, low-lying countries such as Bangladesh will find it much harder to cope with sea level rise than Holland or Florida.
If current trends are allowed to continue, hundreds of millions of people in the poorer countries will lose their homes as well as the land on which they grow their crops. And then there is the threat of diseases: By the end of the century 182 million people in sub-Saharan Africa alone could die of diseases directly attributable to climate change, according to Christian Aid.
We must therefore insist on a dramatic change in direction that goes way beyond the actions currently taken by governments.
The rich countries need to dramatically reduce their use of fossil fuels. At the present time, we are burning a million years worth of fossil fuel deposits every year. This makes the unprecedented standards of living of a large portion of people in the rich countries possible. Meanwhile rapid economic growth is also disproportionately increasing the living standards of minorities in developing countries. But all this is possible only because we are running down the earth’s capital assets, and particularly its fossil fuel resources, at an unprecedented rate whilst damaging the earth’s atmosphere in the process.
It is becoming clear that the rich countries need to take vigorous measures to rapidly reduce their dependence on fossil fuels, and to accelerate the development of renewable energy as the basis of a whole new energy system for the planet. “Climate justice” means giving the poorer countries privileged access to renewable energy technologies to help them with truly sustainable development. The Kyoto treaty’s ‘clean development mechanism’ is a useful start, but much more needs to be done. Only if we can show the plausibility of development without fossil fuels, can we encourage third world countries to initiate their own emissions reductions.
Humanity needs to make every effort to protect the world’s ecosystems, such as forests and coral reefs, and to initiate large-scale projects to reforest denuded areas of land, above all else for the benefit of local populations. Economic and urban development in the last 200 years has largely been at the expense of the world’s ecosystems. Forest cover across the world has been reduced by about 50 per cent and the indigenous people, particularly in the tropics, have suffered terribly in the process. Ways have to be found to pay developing countries for the global ‘ecosystem services’ provided by their forest cover – and their capacity to absorb carbon dioxide and to release moisture to distance places. Under the auspices of climate justice this is a historic responsibility, and it needs to benefit the poorer tropical and subtropical countries of the world and their people above all else.
Affirming the principle of Ecological Debt, we need to acknowledge the entitlement of the victims of climate change to have their ecosystems restored, and to address the loss of land and livelihood they have suffered, and to establish legal precedents to that effect.
Global Justice requires that we make personal and collective choices to use the Earth’s resources prudently, and particularly to minimise our use of fossil fuel energy. We are challenged to rebalance our lifestyles to assure that unborn generations have adequate natural resources, a stable climate and a healthy planet.
I would like now to quote Al Gore, speaking after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans:
Winston Churchill sounded warnings of what was at stake when the storm was gathering on Europe: “The era of procrastination, of half measures, of soothing and baffling expedience of delays, is coming to a close. In its place we are entering a period of consequences.”
Given the scale of this impending disaster, we have no choice but to embark upon a global renewable energy revolution, by replacing our carbon-driven economy with a renewable energy economy. The challenge we are facing now is how to switch to a more secure, lower-carbon energy system that does not undermine economic and social development, and addresses the threats of climate change and global inequality.
Renewable energy technologies are the only viable solution to the coming energy crisis, it is now a matter of how, not of why or when.
Never before has humanity been so overwhelmed by such massive and urgent concerns. We are experiencing explosive population growth: the world’s population is forecast to reach 9.2 billion by 2050. Since 1992, there has been a 50% increase in world energy consumption. Another 50% rise is expected in the next fifteen years. We now know that if we remain locked into an inefficient, polluting, fossil-fuel based global economy, we will exhaust the Earth’s natural resources and we will accelerate climate change.
So we have reached both an environmental and an economic tipping point. Which direction we choose to take will decide the fate of our planet. What is certain is that we must bring about fundamental change in our energy systems, with a renewed focus on energy security and lower, if not zero, carbon emissions.
Whilst conventional fossil and atomic energies continue to endanger our health, the health of the planet, risk sparking conflict over declining resources, and require high water consumption and ever-increasing costs, renewable energy sources do not bring with them these negative effects. They are the only solution to the three key global energy challenges: energy security, cost efficiency and environmental protection. The task now is to create policies that make investment in renewable energies an attractive proposition at national and international levels.
The arguments that renewable energy does not provide sufficient or affordable alternatives to traditional energy sources have been exposed as flawed and false. Furthermore, the cost of finite conventional energies will continue to rise as the sources dry up. Renewable energy costs will generally go down, as they consist almost exclusively of technology costs. Mass production and technological innovation will bring dramatic decreases in cost. So we should not see the promotion of renewables as a burden: we should see it as a unique economic opportunity – one that will reward those who get on board early.
I recently spoke in Berlin at the German Government’s Preparatory Conference for the Establishment of an International Renewable Energy Agency, called IRENA. It is my belief that if we are to embark on a global renewable energy revolution, we cannot do it without IRENA. IRENA is both necessary and urgent if we are to avoid disaster.
Before now, I was sceptical that the international community had the resolve to do what is necessary to prevent global climate disaster. However, the establishment of IRENA is more than the establishment of just another agency. Its visionary goals offer real hope that we can avoid catastrophe by prompting the rapid and worldwide uptake of renewable energy in place of fossil fuel energy sources.
But IRENA is just one aspect of the change in outlook we must effect.
If we want to live in a world that is healthy, harmonious and content, we require a Copernican revolution in our outlook. Each and every one of us must be prepared to make fundamental, lasting and immediate change in the way we live. This cannot be about egos or agendas; it must be about a holistic change in the way we see the world and the way we see ourselves.
Although some more pessimistic scientists warn that we have already passed the tipping point of climate chaos, and that human intervention is now futile, I like to think that is not yet the case. I am convinced that if we act now we can save our world and ourselves.
But we are not just aiming for a set of goals. This is not a checklist by which our success can be measured. It’s no good to have four out of five, or even nine out of ten.
We have to aim for a virtuous circle of morally sound principles and practices. We are reaching a threshold from which there will be no return. If we do not hold our politicians accountable for their decisions; if we do not fight for the abolition of the death penalty and for universal respect for human rights and dignity; if we do not disarm and destroy our nuclear weapons – if we are not prepared to do these things, we may not have a world left protecting before very long.
There is no time for further excuses, postponement, or procrastination. This is a time for courage and leadership, and for positive and immediate action. I have always believed that every individual can make a difference. I urge each of you, in your personal and professional lives, to make serious and lasting choices that will address the challenges we are facing in the world today.
Bianca Jagger is Chair of the World Future Council (www.worldfuturecouncil.org).