Condoleezza in Adelaide: Environment and War


Helen Masterman-Smith, Adelaide

Political heavyweights from six of the world's leading coal industry nations will meet in Adelaide in November. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Australia's foreign minister Alexander Downer, and high level officials from Japan, China, South Korea and India will be in town for the inaugural meeting of the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate. US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld may also join them.

Downer stated that the APPCDC nations "account for 49% of world gross domestic product. They represent 48% of the world's energy consumption, and are responsible for 48% of global greenhouse gas emissions."

The partnership's vision statement is based on criticisms of the likely effectiveness of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which aims to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions to 5.2% below 1990 levels by 2012.

Environmental groups and experts have long been critical of the protocol for not going far enough to forestall widespread destruction, and for failing to secure compliance from the world's leading polluters. While the Australian government now acknowledges these shortcomings, lessons about the connection between untrammelled economic growth, consumption and environmental destruction continue to go unheeded.

Downer claims that the APPCDC offers "an approach that values results and eschews ideology". In fact, neo-liberal ideology is central to its agenda.

The APPCDC has set itself the ambitious task of addressing climate change, energy security, air pollution and poverty, at the same time as promoting capitalist economic growth. They see 'clean' nuclear and nano-technologies, for example, as important elements in protecting the environment.

There appear to be other reasons for the touting of these particular technologies, well known as they are for their military applications. In his book Scorched Earth (1995, New Society Publishers), William Thompson outlines the environmental impact of the military-industrial complex. In a related article in Earth Island Journal (1995) he states: "Preparing to destroy large areas of the planet is a major enterprise. The world's militaries consume more aluminium, copper, nickel and platinum than all the developing nations combined. Nine percent of all iron and steel used on Earth is consumed by the military."

Environmental expert Ruth Leger Sivard documents in her World Military and Social Expenditures that the world's armed forces are the single largest polluter. Similarly, Thompson cites a Canadian Peace Report study that found the world's military produces 10-30% of global environmental damage, 6-10% of worldwide air pollution, and 20% of all ozone-destroying chlorofluorocarbon use.

Further, the problems of radioactive waste, nuclear facility accidents and diversion of by-products for weapons production have not been resolved since the earlier waves of anti-nuclear protests.

This context raises major questions about the APPCDC's promotion of quasi-military technology as solutions to environmental protection. The global war industry not only diverts funds away from social and environmental priorities, it is a prime perpetrator and beneficiary of crimes against humanity and the planet. Thompson argues that war has played a crucial role in the consolidation of political and economic power for centuries. The question today is how long the planet, let alone its people, can survive it.

It is important that the energy-environment debate is not channelled into a false choice between coal or nuclear power. On a recent ABC TV Four Corners program, environmental economics expert Dr Mark Deisendorf argued that there was no need to continue down these two paths. He said Australia's investment in efficient renewable energy sources was "pathetic" by international standards and could be greatly improved.

The APPCDC meeting in Adelaide provides a unique opportunity to speak out on these and related issues. The Adelaide-based NO WAR has initiated the Rice/Rumsfeld Reception Committee, which will coordinate activities, including public meetings, in the lead-up to November.

At its first meeting, the committee proposed the overlapping themes of "opposing the war on the environment and the environment of war". Plans are underway to assist interstate visitors who wish to be involved in November.

Themes and actions will be open for public discussion at the committee's next meeting at 6.30pm on August 29 at the SA Writers Centre, 187 Rundle Street, Adelaide. For more information, phone (08) 8231 6982 or email .

From Green Left Weekly, August 31, 2005.
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