If we want to challenge terrorism, we need to tackle climate change

by Steve Rushton

22 November 2015

In the immediate aftermath of the Paris attacks, the media suggested the forthcoming global climate negotiations in Paris might be postponed. Soon after it was announced the climate summit would go ahead, but with security ratcheted up even tighter, with French authorities then banning planned marches on 29 November and 12 December. This is counterproductive for tackling ISIS: the climate movement needs to be listened to, not shut out, in order to tackle terrorism.

People will solve the climate crisis – not politicians.

The COP21 summit in December was always going to be surrounded by monumental security efforts. These talks were billed both as one of the world’s last chances for reaching a climate agreement, and the largest event of President Hollande’s tenure. These ‘security efforts’ aimed to cocoon the attending world leaders from the public. But little hope can be placed in them striking a deal to stop catastrophic climate change. The oil business has paid many politicians millions, if not billions, to work in their interests – only adding to the interconnectedness between politicians and wealth tied to carbon emissions.

Despite this, hope for COP21 lies in the pressure the public can bring to bear on the politicians. Today we have the potential to create a renewables revolution: the barrier is political will. The climate movement is diverse in tactics and growing in numbers. It spans from anti-extraction movements, to campaigns against new runways, to fossil fuel divestment struggles and beyond – and Paris has been built up as the focal point of this movement.

Protests and direct action have a history of having an effect at summits: during World Trade Organization (WTO) negotiations a decade and a half ago, direct action and mass protests curtailed the most severe free trade measures. Corporations are still trying to push for further free trade through clandestine treaties such as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) – which could again be watered down, if not halted, through people-power.

Historically, many socially progressive gains were fought for by the people rather than gifted from the top, such as women’s right to vote. A clampdown on protest and direct action in Paris will make it far easier for politicians to dodge the opportunity to prevent catastrophic climate change.

To some, this interpretation may seem callous in the lights of the attacks. But climate change is killing and threatens to kill far more people than ISIS. Climate change has even been instrumental in causing the civil war in Syria, creating a power vacuum into which the caliphate spread from neighbouring Iraq. Moreover, ISIS is a product of the very system the climate movement aims to change.

The West needs to stop throwing fuel on the fire.

Although the term ‘War on Terror’ is drifting into history, the doctrine is still dominant and evident in the West’s quickfire response. President Hollande has escalated bombing of Syria and declared war with ISIS. France is planning even more anti-terror legislation; ironically crushing democratic freedoms in the name of upholding liberty. David Cameron has suggested Britain may replicate both measures.

But the French-led response plays straight into the ISIS strategy to polarise the West, as journalist Nafeez Ahmed has suggested. France is replicating George W. Bush’s notion that: “You’re either with us or against us.” This attitude will push many towards extremist ideologies, whether that be towards white-supremacism or towards ISIS; the hate perpetuating more hate.

Since its inception, the War on Terror has clearly empowered terrorists. In 2015, ISIS is far more of a threat than the Al Qaeda of 2001, which is also now far stronger. ISIS controls its own land and oil wells. This is a direct product of the war, emerging from the ashes of Iraq.

The number of terrorist attacks shows how the War on Terror fanned the flames. There were 65 times more terror attacks across the world in 2015 compared to 2002, according to US State Department data. Total annual death rates have skyrocketed. Also, despite what corporate media coverage would lead us to believe, the vast majority of victims are not from the West, but where the US-UK allies have carried out the ‘counter-terrorism’ and military measures. Extra-judicial killings, drone attacks and prison sentences without trial not only contradict the notion that the West is fighting for democracy. They are also a key recruitment opportunity for ISIS.

Many western countries including the US, UK and France also ally themselves with states that may directly fund terrorism, such as Saudi Arabia and Turkey. The Kurdish enclave of Rojava is arguably the strongest resistance against ISIS, in addition to being an inspiring experiment in direct democracy and equality. Yet NATO member Turkey has made sure the PKK (the armed wing of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party) is listed as a terrorist organisation, enforcing an embargo on Rojava, as well as fighting against the Kurdish resistance both directly and through supplying ISIS to fight them. It also allows a porous border allowing ISIS to sell oil, purchase its needs, and bring in supporters to join the caliphate. There is of course a long history of the West’s relations with the Middle East being determined by oil, and the US, UK and France all have a history of supporting brutal regimes in the region. Yet ISIS has not only been created by imperialist oil wars; it is thriving within the current system.

ISIS and its cosy relationship with capitalism.

ISIS oil sales earn half a billion dollars per year, according to recent figures. It has integrated itself into the global economy, unlike most terrorist regimes, acting with a business model more akin to a corporation. A commentary piece by Oliver Tickell persuasively argues that ISIS may have purposefully attacked Paris in order to derail COP21, as an effective climate agreement would curtail its oil revenues.

Not only does the caliphate share similar interests in continuing fossil fuel business as usual, it also provides business opportunities for western capitalism, especially the military industrial complex. Shares in the war industry have skyrocketed since the Paris massacres and investors in oil have seen immediate financial gains.

Over a longer timeframe, ISIS provides further profiteering opportunities for the military industrial complex. Just as the West armed and trained the Mujahideen of Afghanistan, only for it to morph into Al Qaeda; and armed Saddam Hussein, only to fight against these weapons; the West armed and trained rebels to fight against the Assad regime. Many reports suggest these arms and expertise made their ways into ISIS hands. Retired US General Michael Flynn asserts that Washington was ‘wilful’ in supporting the extremist factions in Syria that would become ISIS.

Selling arms only for them to be later turned against your country’s own soldiers seems to make no sense. But it does for those who profit from making those arms. Worldwide, three out of four weapons are made by manufacturers in the five permanent UN Security Council members, plus Israel and Germany. The continued ascension of ISIS benefits these corporations, as it helps to further fuel the current arms race developing across the Middle East. Targeted destruction of infrastructure also creates profit opportunities for companies such as the oilfield contractor Halliburton which can then get contracts in rebuilding it.

According to the same logic of profiting from the destruction of war, the capitalist system profits from the destruction of the environment. A further reason the oil industry is interlocked with the military industrial complex is that the military uses phenomenal amounts of fossil fuels. The US military has a higher carbon footprint than any other single organisation. The carbon footprint of the Iraq war is comparable to the UK’s total emissions in one year.

A climate solution could challenge ISIS.

Considering the shared interests of the fossil fuel and arms industries, western governments and ISIS, it becomes clear why pressure from civil society is needed to reach a solution in Paris next month. The answer is incredibly simple: the West needs to think beyond fossil fuels. Relying on renewable energy would reduce the incentive to fight wars for oil, stopping the need to buy oil from terrorists or continue the oil-based imperialism that makes what happened in Paris an everyday occurrence for many.

We need to give the green light to more renewable projects: subsidise green energy instead of fossil fuels, improve public transport, increase energy efficiency and reduce consumption. Many renewables, such as solar, are also very suitable for decentralised energy production: community energy projects would automatically reduce the power of companies that currently hold the chains of power and keys to keeping our lights on.

The speed of transition needs to be swift – on a par with how quickly the UK shifted to a war economy at the start of the Second World War. A change that has arguably, until now, never truly been reversed. The defence and oil industry offers lots of expertise, transferable skills and infrastructure to realise this shift. Of course, in a future without oil imperialism, these industries would wither drastically anyway.

The sea change will create more employment opportunities: a roadmap suggests the possibility of a million climate jobs in Britain alone. It also offers a chance to stop other systemic crises we face by reducing financial speculation and increasing equality both within western countries and globally.

There are of course many political questions about sharing responsibilities globally and the halting damage that is already underway. But crucially, people need to reclaim the power from politicians who may shout loudly about dealing with terrorism, but in practice are really only concerned with their sponsors’ profits.

Business as usual will only cause more tragedies.

Photo: Kris Krüg/Flickr

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