I lived with a military version of the “new normal” when my husband came back from Iraq with severe combat trauma, and there was nothing normal about it. Those years were defined by fear, insecurity, lies, violence, and crystal meth. I shudder at the fact that much of this country has tacitly accepted the Trump era as the new normal. When I hear climate scientists say the heat records of recent years will become the new normal within a decade or so, I realize just how bad it will be. Anyone who’s been told to normalize highly abnormal and potentially lethal conditions has a gut-level understanding that new normal is a dog whistle for hell.
"New normal" is the phrase society slaps on the horrific conditions we have created and now lack the courage and love to change. So we get used to things that shouldn’t have happened in the first place, and most of us are okay with it, as long as it doesn’t happen to us. But eventually, it will. Truthfully, it’s happening to all of us right now, even if we’re too distracted by a shiny new news story to see it. A Google search of how miserable poor Don Jr. is with dad in the White House generated nearly seven million results. By comparison, a search for articles about how GOP leaders stripped Rep. Barbara Lee’s (D-CA) amendment to repeal the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) from the FY 2018 Appropriations Act at zero dark hundred produced 70,000 hits.
Since Congress refuses to raise war taxes or reinstate the draft, you probably believe you’ll never have to pay for the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and elsewhere that you don’t fight, don’t notice and may not even support. I’ve got bad news: you’re already paying for them. Those of you with children and grandchildren, or the dream that one day you’ll be parents? Be warned: the little ones will pay a whole lot more than you. They might just pay with their lives, even if they never wear the uniform.
The carbon footprint of military operations is massive, and in the war between combat and climate, combat is clearly winning. The Iraq War alone released at least 141 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2e), according to figures from Oil Change International, a think tank on the cost of fossil fuels.
“That’s about the equivalent of adding 25 million cars to the road in the US in one year,” said climate activist and author Bill McKibben, in his testimony at the People’s Tribunal on the Iraq War in Washington, D.C. last December.
McKibben is the founder of 350.org, and I invited him to speak at the Tribunal, where I also testified. I knew what the war had cost me: my husband, my home and land, my job, my healthcare, and my security and identity (literally). I wanted to know what it was costing everyone, and the price that might be paid by the future. In his testimony, McKibben remarked, “This one war produce[d] more carbon each year than 60 percent of the world’s countries.”
Carbon dioxide (CO2) is one of the main drivers of climate change, and in case you missed it, a recent report revealed that one of the consequences of that is an incipient “biological annihilation.” It is almost as if we’re waging war on ourselves. Professor Gerardo Ceballas, one of the report’s co-authors, said to CNN’s John Sutter, “What is at stake is really the state of humanity.”
Also at stake is the humanity of a nation that signs a blank check for endless war. Trump has proposed a $54 billion increase in Department of Defense spending; he plans to siphon some of the funds via brutal cuts to the EPA budget. Nearly 40 percent of Americans live in areas with frequently unhealthy levels of air pollution, and more than 600,000 children worldwide die every year because of it.
The recent calving of the so-called Exxon Knew iceberg from Antarctica’s Larsen C ice shelf is going to accelerate rising sea levels, which will have a catastrophic casualty count. Cutting funds to agencies that support life in order to finance activities that do not is morally indefensible.
A Congress that would even contemplate spending $406.5 billion on a few F-35s for warfare while attempting to slash $800 billion from senior healthcare and revoke health insurance from 22 million poor and disabled Americans is actively redefining what it means to be morally bankrupt. Should the Affordable Care Act be repealed, an estimated 24,000 Americans will die each year. That’s triple the total number of troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001.
We simply cannot afford any more unlimited funding of unlimited war. We’ve already paid far too much.
“The total U.S. spending on the Iraq war could have covered all the global investment in renewable power generation needed between now and 2030 in order to halt the rise in the planet’s temperature,” McKibben said.
With the $600 billion Congress put into military operations in Iraq, America could have helped protect the planet. We helped destroy it instead. Congress is poised to once again pledge allegiance to endless war and all the collateral damage it creates. Is this the “new normal” we want?