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Tomgram: Rajan Menon, Our Global (Dis)Order and Climate Change

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This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

Someday, Vladimir Putin's decision to invade Ukraine may be rated as the stupidest act in human history. In case you hadn't noticed (and if so, where the hell have you been living?), our planet's in genuine crisis. Flooding, drought, melting ice sheets, and storms have only grown increasingly severe in recent years " and the way to take your mind off all that? Well, why not invade your neighbor and, as TomDispatch regular Rajan Menon makes clear today, pour yet more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere? Brilliant! Truly brilliant!

As that old song went: "War, what is it good for? Absolutely nothing." But what is it bad for? The answer, in a sense, is simple enough: so very much. And yet, call us all eerily hooked on war and preparations for more of it. And I'm not just thinking about the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, now destroying so much, killing so many, and creating staggering numbers of refugees. I'm thinking, for instance, about a recent story ABC News broke, indicating that the U.S. is now committed to building new facilities at Tindal Air Base in northern Australia that could house up to six B-52 nuclear bombers for a mere $100 million (a veritable steal!). From there, those planes would be able to reach China with their devastating payloads. Again, a brilliant decision to heighten the possibility of nuclear war (something that, if Vladimir Putin had done it, would have left Washington up in arms).

I mean, what better moment for the two greatest greenhouse gas emitters of today and, in the case of the U.S., the greatest in history not to communicate on the subject of global warming, while communicating oh-so-obviously with their weaponry. (The Chinese cut off climate talks with the U.S. last month.)

And as for that $100 million (no less the full billion going into building up American "defenses" across the northern part of Australia), what if the U.S. had given those funds to one of the poor countries that doesn't have the necessary cash to begin financing its switch to non-greenhouse-gas-emitting energy? Not a chance, of course, and though United Nations head Antà nio Guterres has termed the sort of behavior now going on "collective suicide," who's paying the slightest attention to him?

Still, take a moment to pay a little attention to Menon, only recently back from Ukraine, who lays out just why that war qualifies right now as a true act of madness on Planet Earth. Tom

Fighting a War on the Wrong Planet
What Climate Change Should Have Taught Us


Washington's vaunted "rules-based international order" has undergone a stress test following Russia's invasion of Ukraine and here's the news so far: it hasn't held up well. In fact, the disparate reactions to Vladimir Putin's war have only highlighted stark global divisions, which reflect the unequal distribution of wealth and power. Such divisions have made it even harder for a multitude of sovereign states to find the minimal common ground needed to tackle the biggest global problems, especially climate change.

In fact, it's now reasonable to ask whether an international community connected by a consensus of norms and rules, and capable of acting in concert against the direst threats to humankind, exists. Sadly, if the responses to the war in Ukraine are the standard by which we're judging, things don't look good.

The Myth of Universality

After Russia invaded, the United States and its allies rushed to punish it with a barrage of economic sanctions. They also sought to mobilize a global outcry by charging Putin with trashing what President Biden's top foreign policy officials like to call the rules-based international order. Their effort has, at best, had minimal success.

Yes, there was that lopsided vote against Russia in the United Nations General Assembly, the March 2nd resolution on the invasion sponsored by 90 countries. One hundred and forty-one nations voted for it and only five against, while 35 abstained. Beyond that, in the "global south" at least, the response to Moscow's assault has been tepid at best. None of the key countries there " Brazil, India, Indonesia, and South Africa, to mention four " even issued official statements castigating Russia. Some, including India and South Africa, along with 16 other African countries (and don't forget China though it may not count as part of the global south), simply abstained from that U.N. resolution. And while Brazil, like Indonesia, voted yes, it also condemned "indiscriminate sanctions" against Russia.

None of those countries joined the United States and most of the rest of NATO in imposing sanctions on Russia, not even Turkey, a member of that alliance. In fact, Turkey, which last year imported 60 billion cubic meters of natural gas from Russia, has only further increased energy cooperation with Moscow, including raising its purchases of Russian oil to 200,000 barrels per day " more than twice what it bought in 2021. India, too, ramped up oil purchases from Russia, taking advantage of discounted prices from a Moscow squeezed by U.S. and NATO sanctions. Keep in mind that, before the war, Russia had accounted for just 1% of Indian oil imports. By early October, that number had reached 21%. Worse yet, India's purchases of Russian coal " which emits far more carbon dioxide into the air than oil and natural gas " may increase to 40 million tons by 2035, five times the current amount.

Despite the risk of facing potential U.S. sanctions thanks to the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), India also stuck by its earlier decision to buy Russia's most advanced air-defense system, the S-400. The Biden administration eventually threaded that needle by arranging a waiver for India, in part because it's seen as a major future partner against China with which Washington has become increasingly preoccupied (as witnessed by the new National Security Strategy). The prime concern of the Indian leadership, however, has been to preserve its close ties with Russia, war or no war, given its fear of a growing alignment between that country and China, which India sees as its main adversary.

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's Tomdispatch.com ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch (more...)

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