The Elephant in the Park
What Is More Urgent Than the Climate Crisis?
Like a silent Greek chorus, three of us anti-war activists, each over 60, held up a giant WAR IS NOT GREEN banner during the Earth Day festival in Santa Barbara organized by the Community Environmental Council. In the back of the crowd, amidst the trees at Alameda Park, we raised our banner to catch the eye of the keynote speaker. Actress Jane Fonda — a force of nature at 85, captivated the crowd with her rousing indictment of the oil industry and corporate demons, congratulating Santa Barbara for stopping new oil drilling off the coast.
I kept waiting, hoping she would also point a finger at the Pentagon as the largest institutional consumer of oil and emitter of greenhouse gases with its endless wars and 750 polluting military bases occupying foreign lands — but not a word did she utter about militarism as a driver of the climate crisis.
This-the madness of militarism — is the elephant in the room — or park.
Jane Fonda knows of war.
Fonda, a rock star of the anti-Vietnam War movement, toured military bases in the ’70s with actor Donald Sutherland and singer Holly Near, bringing the road show “Fuck the Army” to GIs who otherwise might be “entertained” by comedian Bob Hope’s not-so-funny pro-war USO tour.
In her political heyday, Fonda paid a heavy price for her opposition to the Vietnam War, for being photographed seated on a North Vietnamese anti-aircraft gun, a pose for which she apologized — albeit unnecessarily — years later. Her silence on war during the Earth Day event felt like another apology to the military — or maybe it was simply an effort to unite us, not divide us over the war in Ukraine, a proxy war between the two most heavily armed nuclear nations, Russia and the United States.
The truth of our reality, however, is that we are facing a more urgent environmental threat than the climate crisis.
Nuclear war when billions perish in a fiery hell, followed by nuclear winter, when the smoke blocks the sun and famine reigns.
As Russia’s Vladimir Putin issues veiled threats to launch nuclear weapons — much as past US president have issued nuclear threats — the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists sets the Doomsday Clock at 90 seconds to midnight in a warning to the public that we have never been closer to destroying ourselves in a nuclear apocalypse.
This is why the three of us, the mute Greek chorus, tabled earlier at the entrance to the Earth Day festival, gathering dozens of signatures on our petitions to Biden, Putin, and Zelensky to support a ceasefire and peace negotiation to end the war that has no military solution. “We will share these petitions with Congressmember Salud Carbajal,” I assure the signers because our congressmember, like most of the others on Capitol Hill, continues to vote for more weapons— now tanks with cancer-causing depleted uranium shells.
“War is not the answer,” a woman tells me after signing, after thanking us for being there, for being a visible anti-war presence on Earth Day.
I nod and point to our sign, “Diplomacy to end the war in Ukraine — Not more weapons to prolong it.”
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