By Kelly Merrill
Twenty-two people were arrested on June 22nd at a protest calling for the conversion of Bath Iron Works from a weapons manufacturing facility into one that builds sustainable energy systems. Divesting themselves of General Dynamics and converting to innovative green technologies would allow Maine and BIW to address climate change and could produce twice as many jobs in the process.
Fifteen groups sponsored the direct action, including Maine Veterans for Peace, the Maine Independent Green Party, the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space, and others.
LARGEST POLLUTER ON THE PLANET
The Pentagon has identified climate change as a serious vulnerability that is an accelerant of instability and conflict. Yet the Pentagon is the largest polluter on the planet, creating more pollution than as many as 140 counties. And within the U.S., the Department of Defense accounts for nearly 80% of all federal government energy consumption since 2001.
The imperative for addressing climate was expressed by twenty-five members of the national security community in a 2016 report, concluding that the effects of climate change present a strategically-significant risk to U.S. national and international security and assert that the “U.S. must advance a comprehensive policy for addressing this risk.”
THE PENTAGON’S DEPENDENCY
Journalist John Lawrence expressed the feedback loop created by the Pentagon’s reliance on and dominance of global oil resources. As he says in a 2014 article, “The U.S. military consumes huge amounts of oil so that it may preserve strategic access to oil in order to get the oil it needs to preserve strategic access to oil and so on in a never-ending loop. Insatiable militarism is the single greatest institutional contributor to the growing natural disasters intensified by global climate change.”
Meanwhile, we must ask to what end do we even need these ships? The U.S. already outmatches the next 20 largest navies in firepower, the U.S. warship fleet is larger than the next 13 largest fleets combined, and we spend more than the next seven largest military spending countries.
“We are owed a shift in direction, especially as a growing climate crisis poses a national security threat. Besides the loss of life, what will the carbon footprint of yet another war be? Will another Zumwalt give us clean air and water? I work hard at trying not to be afraid and withdrawn in the face of what the future holds for us youth,” said Luke Sekera at a June 21st press conference which preceded the protest.
And it’s these youth activists who are making the most gains. On June 23rd, CBS’s “60 Minutes” reported on Juliana versus the United States, a lawsuit filed in 2015 asking the courts to block the U.S. government from continuing to use fossil fuels. The claimants hold that the government is causing climate change, endangering their future, and violating their constitutional rights to life, liberty and property.
The suit and a staggering 36,000 pages of evidence has forced the government to admit that the crisis is real and that every president has known for over 50 years that burning fossil fuels would cause catastrophic climate change.
The consensus is that the reach and capacity of military or the conversion of military installations and the redistribution of resources toward green technologies and away from fossil fuels is necessary.
GREEN NEW DEAL
The Green New Deal has stressed the need of government involvement in addressing this crisis, acknowledging that due to wage stagnation, wealth disparities, deindustrialization and anti-labor policies, the public sector does not have adequate resources to confront the challenges of climate change.
And even as military personnel agree climate is the most compelling issue of national security that we face as a nation, our elected representatives in Congress continue to push back against green pilot programs being instituted by the Pentagon for political gain.
WE HAVE THE CAPACITY
Dud Hendrick, a Veteran and peace activist who was among those arrested at the June 22nd action, said “[e]ven politicians, who lament that we can’t seem to find enough money for education, health care, repairing infrastructure, fighting poverty, and protecting the environment, are afraid to mention that nearly 60% of our discretionary funds go to the military.”
In fact, Patsy Messier, who has worked at BIW for 32 years, believes “BIW has the capacity with all the equipment and people already there for the conversion to happen pretty easily. All it would take is the will by the people.” She urged protesters to continue engaging BIW workers to show them that the conversion protects the same way of life we so value.
IT’S BEEN DONE BEFORE
And this kind of conversion has precedent. During WWII following the New Deal, we converted the peacetime economy to meet the demands of the war effort. Factories that made silk ribbons produced parachutes, typewriter companies converted to machine guns, and roller-coaster manufacturers converted to producing bomber repair platforms. Also, with the political will of the nation and the leadership of President John F. Kennedy Jr., we were able to go to the moon.
We must face these issues with curiosity and resolve. We can address it with a Green New Deal. Maine has been on the forefront of environmental protections for decades. It’s time to take bold action to mitigate catastrophic consequence and protect our people, environmental resources, and all life on this planet.
Merrill is an activist and artist. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.