Solar Peace, or Blood for Oil: The Need to Broaden the Peace Movement

In his State of the Union address, President Obama opened a door through which the peace, labor and environmental movements should march, towards an energy future not dependent on resource wars.

This is our generation’s “Sputnik moment,” adding, “our Apollo project.”

Obama called for one million electric cars on the road in four years, eighty percent of our energy needs met by clean energy in two decades, high-speed rail by 2035 and, starting immediately, 100,000 math and science teachers.

“To help pay for it,” the president added, “I’m asking Congress to eliminate the billions in taxpayer dollars we currently give to oil companies.”

There’s a fight that should be fought, a fight in which progressives can only gain ground.

Solar PanelsThe present wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are wars for oil, natural gas and pipelines – “resource wars”, as Gen. Alexander Haig said years ago. They also are wars for bases in strategic locations in the global Long War, which devours $120 billion every year for Afghanistan alone.

The sad irony is that the United States now spends tax dollars developing solar energy for remote military bases in the Long War.

Every president through Obama has called for energy independence. But the dependence continues to grow. Preserving the unstable Gulf states, under the Carter Doctrine, is a matter of national security. The secret special relationship with the Saudi oil family has not changed. The festering hostility towards Iran and Venezuela originated over oil. Afghanistan is called Pipelinestan by those in the know.

Does Obama know this sordid history? You can bet on it. Will he do anything about it? His State of the Union might be understood as a cry for help in avoiding the fate of other national politicians who focused too much on conservation. Al Gore was derided as a dreamer. When Carter spoke of our “national malaise”, the political and national security elites laughed him away. When Jerry Brown launched California on the path to conservation and renewable resources, his possible path to the presidency was derailed by hacks; ones who still call him “Governor Moonbeam.”

Obama knows the road is hard. His effort to an energy bill out of the Senate failed. His top renewable energy adviser, Carol Browner, has resigned for reasons unclear. The new Congress is more hostile than ever.

So his speech this week must be considered a speech to the American people, and to his base, not a proposal the House of Dinosaurs will act on. But it points a path for labor, environmentalists, innovative businesses, progressive governors and legislators, and advocates of peace

Most environmentalists deeply dislike Obama’s endorsement of nuclear energy as an option. I understand better than most, having opposed nuclear power from Sacramento to Harrisburg since 1978. The nuclear option is a scam on the taxpayers, will take decades to bring on line, and has no solution to waste disposal.

But here’s how to think of nuclear power politically: it may be necessary to Obama’s package, but it can be fought in Congress, state by state, site by site. The most important fight is over incentives and funding for conservation and renewables.

So here’s what people can do today. Sign up as a supporter of the Apollo Alliance, a project originated by the Sierra Club and the Steelworkers several years ago, now active in many states.

Don’t expect the Apollo Alliance to become an arm of the peace movement. That’s our job. But as we oppose these wars, we need to be developing credible energy alternatives. And we can make alliances locally, where nearly everyone who supports conservation and solar also opposes the wars.

The grassroots can demand also that federal budget cuts should come from the trillion dollar costs of the unwinnable wars instead of slashing pensions, health benefits and social programs. It’s lunacy, and a political gift to the neo-conservatives, to believe that the government can reduce deficits by subsidizing unfunded wars.

tom haydenPeace activists should meet with seniors, local labor councils, social service agencies, and police and firefighters to fund practical ways to oppose Afghanistan and reinvest in security at home. Go to the National Priorities Project and residents in your town will be astonished at how the war is sucking the lifeblood out of our communities. The annual budget for Afghanistan and Iraq, for example, could easily pay for solar photovoltaic installations for 150 million American families per year.

From the bottom up, a new convergence is possible. Peace activists can be catalysts and, in the process, start to organize again. 

Tom Hayden

The Peace and Justice Resource Center


  1. S. Blair Fox says

    The Eagle, the Cat, and the Wild Sow

    An Eagle made her nest at the top of a lofty oak; a Cat, having found a convenient hole, moved into the middle of the trunk; and a Wild Sow, with her young, took shelter in a hollow at its foot. The Cat cunningly resolved to destroy this chance-made colony. To carry out her design, she climbed to the nest of the Eagle, and said, “Destruction is preparing for you, and for me too, unfortunately. The Wild Sow, whom you see daily digging up the earth, wishes to uproot the oak, so she may on its fall seize our families as food for her young.” Having thus frightened the Eagle out of her senses, she crept down to the cave of the Sow, and said, “Your children are in great danger; for as soon as you go out with your litter to find food, the Eagle is prepared to pounce upon one of your little pigs.” Having instilled these fears into the Sow, she went and pretended to hide herself in the hollow of the tree. When night came she went forth with silent foot and obtained food for herself and her kittens, but feigning to be afraid, she kept a lookout all through the day. Meanwhile, the Eagle, full of fear of the Sow, sat still on the branches, and the Sow, terrified by the Eagle, did not dare to go out from her cave. And thus they both, along with their families, perished from hunger, and afforded ample provision for the Cat and her kittens.

    Fear can be deadly, overwhelming.

    Mr. Hayden, it appears to me that so many people are deathly afraid of looking beyond the News presented on TV or in the news prints, so much so, that the solutions presented to these dark problems are nearly hopeless pursuits to gain a foothold on the mess that we are really in.

    If I read between the lines correctly, and you have to for greater truth, the technologies already exist for clean energy. They are simply hidden for the betterment of our conglomerates. I am sure you heard the phrase, “Follow the Money”. There is always a money trail in these global problems. I would consider your article as a type of “Water bug” as it remains on the surface of the pond, never to go deep into the debts.

    As Progressives, we must be able to scrutinize what is said, to what is real. I only sometimes offer details of proof for my arguments, though I encourage all to seek into the hidden mazes of our global agendas.

  2. Adam Eran says

    Please don’t forget city planning as an important adjunct to the pursuit of alternative energy. Building sprawl literally casts our commute-with-petroleum dependence in concrete. The alternative (New Urbanism) is a nicer way to live, too. Market acceptance of New Urbanism (mixed-use, pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods) exceeds sprawl by a wide margin. Premiums paid for homes in such neighborhoods start at 40%.

    We’re not likely to see a surge in home building or commercial real estate for some time now, but now is the time to put policies in place to prevent a return to building gas-guzzling neighborhoods.

    Oh yes, and sprawl makes transit impossible (riders literally can’t walk to stops because of design barriers), so let’s not forget this important component of transit. We have 100-mile-per-gallon cars *now*.

    They’re called “buses.”

    Finally, a little troll repellent: The B.S. on the street is that sprawl is market-driven (the premiums paid for New Urban developments give the lie to this) *and* it’s high-density. Look at the picture at, and you’ll see New Urbanism encompasses *all* densities, from most rural to most compact.

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