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Radical Imagination and funding priorities during a Climate Crisis

November 9, 2021

As the United Nations Climate Change Summit, often referred to as COP26, enters its last week, most climate activists around the world realize that these gatherings of world leaders do not and will not result in any serious plan to reduce our collective dependence on fossil fuels.

Over and over again, the Climate Justice Movement, particularly in the Global South, have made it clear that the most powerful nations on the planet continue to use lofty rhetoric, but fail to embrace policies and practices that will avert further climate disaster.

As many climate activists have pointed out, world leaders are ultimately beholden to the Neo-Liberal Capitalist economy that drives the push towards global climate disaster. 

Many climate activists also have been pointing out for years that we often fail to radically imagine a different world, a world outside of Capitalism and dependence on the use of fossil fuels. One clear example is centering around funding priorities.

Most of us are probably aware of the fact that the fossil fuel industry receives massive taxpayer subsidies.Global giveaways to oil, gas, and coal companies total more than $444 billion per year. That’s nearly $1 million every minute.

In the US, the Environmental and Energy Study Institute reported that direct subsidies to the fossil fuel industry total $20 billion per year, with 80% going toward oil and gas. This is exactly why the fossil fuel industry spends millions every year to contribute to political candidates and to lobby reported that the fossil fuel sector had already spent $81.9 million on lobby in the first three quarters of 2021, just prior to COP26.

Now, if we were to apply some radical imagination in the US, what could we do with the $20 Billion we give to the fossil fuel industry in subsidies? How much could $20 Billion reduce student debt? How many homes could be built for $20 Billion? What could $20 Billion a year buy in terms of sustainable energy? And remember, this happens on an annual basis.

Another are we could exercise out radical imagination would be in looking at how much money the US spends on militarism and war. In a recent report put out by the National Priorities Project and the Institute for Policy Studies, they provide us with some very clear numbers on what the US has spent on militarism since 9/11.

The US has spent $21 Trillion on foreign and domestic militarism. Here are some numbers these groups provide, that practice a radically imagined use of $21 Trillion that would support life-affirming projects.

For far less than it spent on militarization since 9/11, the U.S. could reinvest to meet critical challenges that have been neglected for the last 20 years:

    • $4.5 trillion could fully decarbonize the U.S. electric grid.
    • $2.3 trillion could create 5 million jobs at $15 per hour with benefits and cost-of-living adjustments for 10 years.
    • $1.7 trillion could erase student debt.
    • $449 billion could continue the extended Child Tax Credit for another 10 years.
    • $200 billion could guarantee free preschool for every 3-and-4-year old for 10 years, and raise teacher pay.
    • $25 billion could provide COVID vaccines for the populations of low-income countries.

In 2020, Senators Markey and Sanders proposed legislation to cut the $740 Billion US Military Budget by 10%, thus diverting $74 Billion to social programs. The Senate voted against such a proposal by a vote of 77 – 23, with both Michigan Senators voting against reducing the US military budget. 

When people ask how can we pay off the student debt in the US, Medicare For All, or any number of project areas that would improve millions of lives of US residents, it is never a question of money, rather it is always a question of priorities.

This is one of the arguments that the Defund the Police Movement has been making. Since there is no serious evidence that policing prevents crime and violence in the US, what if the money we currently spend on policing was diverted to programs and projects that specifically benefit BIPOC communities. 

These are not only the kinds of questions we need to be asking ourselves, but we need to practice radical imagination in our organizing work so that other people can see how they would benefit from these kinds of priority shifts, along with the fact that our planetary future depends on it. 

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