Friday, October 28, 2011

Dying of consumption

In a single average year, the U.S. military uses enough fuel to run the entire mass transit system of the nation for 22 years—1.589 trillion BTUs—and that does not count the energy used to manufacture military hardware. 
 —Kent Shifferd (2011, p. 90)
In our various peace and justice movements I have heard (and said) for decades that it is a deep irony that so many of meet only after burning dinosaurs to physically get together. 

Of course, we mostly burned fossil fuel from ferns and other plants, since the greenery on Earth always vastly outweighs the animal life, but the point was that we need to consume something to fight the conflicts often caused, in part, by our overconsumption of nonrenewable resources. At least we who are on the peace and justice and nonviolent side of the issue acknowledge our own part in the problem. We try to get better. It's easy where I live, in Portland, where I am in a car only 2-3 times annually, and that more as a courtesy to the driver, not because I need a ride. My bike and the bus or train are amazing hereabouts. Of course, I just flew to Memphis to be with my academic tribe of Peace and Justice Studies Association members, but that is a once-per-year fuel expense. As soon as my schedule settles down, I will do the right thing and take the train to such conferences, at least those in the landmass of North America.

The societal costs of managing conflict should be run through a cost/benefit analysis that includes energy consumption and all the costs that implies. Getting the amount of peace and justice required to keep our world out of war would require a substantial investment in moving people and the goods of life around, certainly. That substantial investment can be viewed as cancelled out by two factors. 

One, the movement of troops, which would probably be about the same as moving nonviolent conflict workers around to help intercede, interpose and help overcome violence. 

Two, the movement of completely superfluous luxury foods and other goods can be eliminated and instead the basic necessities can be shipped to those most in need.

By making those two conversions, we probably come out just about equally, but then we have all the rest of the military consumption, that is, the manufacture and movement of the vast arsenals. This is what accounts for a great share of the massive energy consumption of the military. The US military is the only one that Shifferd looked at in particular, but that is the one that counts most. China and Russia manufacture lots of military materiél and export lots, but we "lead." We are also the only nation with serious overseas military bases, some 1,000 or more if we count all the small ones, and on the sovereign soil of about 150 of the 193 nation-states on Earth. That is a lot of materiél in motion. Even the military worries about this and is trying to go hybrid on some vehicles to stay in business even with the fuel shortages that it helps cause. And for those on the peace side who wonder why we should have so many trainings, consider that the military trains constantly, and is learning how to use high tech to reduce consumption in some trainings.

The positive feedback loop of more consumption leading to more conflict leading to more consumption leading to more conflict leading to more consumption leading to more conflict is a form of Idiot's Delight that threatens our national security far more than Saddam ever did and more than Ahmadinijad does now. With protectors like our military, who needs foreign despots? Unless we determine that we want to stop this cycle (in part by starting to cycle) it will run us over in its vicious spiral to death and destructive consumption. The one percent from Richistan profit from this conflict/consumption loop and the rest of us lose. Cut off the military and save energy, lives and money, massively. Time to interpose right here, right now, at home.


Shifferd, Kent D. (2011). From war to peace: A guide to the next hundred years. Jefferson, NC: McFarland.


Terri said...

This is the appropriate time of year to engage in this discussion. Thanksgiving is less about giving thanks and more about receiving and gluttony and then there's Christmas. I think that's why I enjoyed the Christmas a couple years back when Portland was snowed in, it forced us all to enjoy the simple pleasures of staying home with our loved ones.

Tom H. Hastings said...

Hey, Terri, that is a happy memory. Forced to be in relationship instead in consumership--the New Paradigm. Very nice model.