Choose the right battle

By Pearl Benjamin | Jan 09, 2020

2020 is looking bleak already. Forests are burning, cities are flooding and suddenly we’re on the brink of war in the Middle East. Yet again, my generation is being handed massive, catastrophic problems that we’ll have to deal with in our adulthood. As much as I want to rally the forces to stand up and fight against all this, I’m honestly losing hope.

Australia’s people, wildlife, and landscape are all in serious peril after weeks of relentless wildfires. Cities are choked by orange smoke, homes lie in smoldering ruins and animals are being torched alive. As of two days ago, 23 people have died, 1,300 homes have been destroyed, 480 million animals are estimated dead, and almost six million hectares of forest, farmland, and countryside have been consumed by the flames. The catastrophe barely registers in the U.S. media, and the Australian government refuses to confront the root cause of the issue. While his country burns, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison defended vacationing in Hawaii by stating, “I don’t hold a hose, mate.”

Did you know that 40 percent of Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta, is currently under water? That disaster has received even less media coverage than the Australian bush fires. Jakarta has been pounded by torrential rain storms since New Year’s Eve and now 66 people have died, 173,000 have been displaced and the city is literally sinking.  The increasingly common flooding caused by rising sea levels is so bad that Indonesia plans to move its capital to Borneo – a project that will take 10 years and cost $34 billion. Poor countries suffer the bulk of the consequences of global warming, but even when affluent cities like Venice are hit by flash floods, we still can’t acknowledge what we’ve done.

We can no longer excuse climate change deniers because they “don’t see the damage right in front of them.” Extreme climate events are already here. In 2017, Hurricanes Irma, Harvey and Maria devastated areas in Florida, Texas, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands and ultimately cost the U.S. thousands of lives and almost $300 billion. In 2018, the notorious Camp Fire became the deadliest wildfire in California history and the most expensive natural disaster in the world. The fire wiped out 153,336 acres, destroyed 18,804 structures and killed at least 85 people. We should stop acting surprised. These are exactly the kinds of catastrophes climate scientists predicted decades ago.

Instead of taking any action to address climate change, our denialist administration instead chose to set new fires in the Middle East. On Jan. 3, President Trump ordered the assassination of the second-most powerful official in Iran. General Qassem Soleimani, leader of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’s elite Quds Force, was killed in the drone strike, along with the deputy commander of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Units. In the days since, President Trump has threatened to attack cultural sites in Iran (a war crime under international law) and the Iranian government has announced it will no longer honor the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. The Iraqi parliament voted to expel all American troops from its country, and our military is now suspending efforts to fight ISIS in order to focus on retaliating against a potential attack from Iran. Why is all of this happening? We don’t know. Trump classified his reasons for the Soleimani assassination, so the American people have no way of understanding why we’re headed towards war with a country that could soon have its own nuclear weapons.

What does a possible war with Iran have to do with climate catastrophes? It’s about choosing the right battles. At a time when we’re already dealing with a ballooning national debt, entering a trillion-dollar war will make investing in critical climate change solutions impossible. Declaring war on Iran could tie down our government and its limited resources for years, even under the leadership of a newly-elected Democratic president. Let me remind you that we have less than a decade to reduce our carbon emissions by 50 percent. And it’s not just our own goals we need to be concerned with. It’s just as critical that we regain our role as a leader on the issue to ensure that all nations are doing their part.

The world war we should be fighting is against climate change. We should be training our troops to fight fires and rescue civilians. We should be spending our resources on rebuilding Puerto Rico instead of building bases in the Middle East. The climate crisis requires all the attention we can give it right now, because no amount of money will be able to repair the damage once we pass the point of no return.

So, what can be done? This is usually the part where I tell you about inspirational movements, activists and organizations that are working tirelessly to make a change. It’s where I tell you we can’t lose hope and that we have to do our part. In all honesty, I have little optimism about our current situation.

Democrats in Congress are taking measures to try and hold off Trump’s aggression against Iran. Senator Tim Kaine introduced a resolution that would block Trump from escalating the conflict. The resolution is privileged, meaning Republicans can’t block it from a vote. In the House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s resolution reinstates the role of Congress in declaring war. The resolution will pass in the House, but likely won’t accomplish much other than put Republicans on record for their votes in the Senate. Neither bill will make it past Donald Trump, and an override is unlikely. As always, our Senators hold the power to impact votes in a narrowly divided chamber. I’ll be calling Angus King and Susan Collins all week, making sure they know which battle I want them to fight for.

I’m a patriotic person. If I wasn’t, I probably wouldn’t have much to talk about in this column. I will gladly fight for my country if the battle benefits the greater good. But I will not support or fight a war without cause or benefit, especially those that serve only to line the pockets of the fossil fuel industry. My generation will already have to adapt to a world ravaged by disaster. We shouldn’t be forced to handle the fallout from a meaningless conflict as well. War is already here and it’s threatening humanity as a whole. But this one can’t be won with bombs and bullets. Let’s let 2020 be the year we get our priorities straight and start choosing our battles wisely.

Pearl Benjamin is a student at the Watershed School.

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Comments (4)
Posted by: Kendall Merriam | Jan 20, 2020 17:40

America's 19 years-long-trillions-dollars-war in Afghanistan has bled our coffers and ruined countless Afghan and American and Allies lives. Those trillions could go along way toward infrastructure/climate degradation in our country. But until Trump is gone, environmentally (and otherwise) things will only worsen. The immediate emergency is to work against his re-election.

Posted by: Mary A McKeever | Jan 18, 2020 12:47

Somewhere I read that a "Little" child would lead us and so it has become.  Thank you Pearl and hopefully our government officials will hear you and "Lead"!

Mary "Mickey" (Brown) McKeever ...+:0)....

Posted by: Ananur Forma | Jan 09, 2020 12:39

yes, it's tough.

Posted by: Richard McKusic, Sr. | Jan 09, 2020 09:05

Please, Pearl, don't give up HOPE.  Am sure I am not the only one upholding you in thoughts and prayers. You have been an encouragement to those of us whom know what can happen working together. 

Seeing so many positive things happening locally in our faith communities asked others to join and show what can be accomplished; despite our differences. It happened and Faith Connections was born to let people know that; although we are very different in our beliefs; they are not alone.

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