I just returned from a national conference titled “War and Environment” held at American University in Washington DC. I was invited to speak on the subject of conversion of the military industrial complex to sustainable production in order to help us deal with our present challenge of climate change.

While riding Amtrak to Washington I worked on my speech and was following the massive devastation of Puerto Rico and the US territory of Virgin Islands. Where will the money come from to help the 3.4 million people now dislocated in Puerto Rico? It seems to me that we should be discussing the need to turn our military into the ‘Natural Guard’ as warming oceans create larger and more deadly hurricanes with wind speeds that level trees and homes. Global warming is a national security crisis.

During my talk at the conference I spoke about the urgent need to reorient our fossil fuel dependent economy and used as my example our long-time campaign in Bath to call for the conversion of Bath Iron Works (BIW).

Imagine building commuter rail systems at BIW. My partner now takes the BREEZ bus from Brunswick to work in Portland. She rests, reads, and gazes out the window while someone else does the driving. As demand grows for this public transit option the BREEZ bus won’t be big enough. Commuter rail systems would be the next best step but where would they be built? Maybe Canada, France or Japan? Why not at BIW. Studies at UMASS-Amherst Economics Department have long shown that we’d get more jobs at places like BIW if we built rail, wind turbines, solar and tidal power systems. Isn’t everyone interested in more jobs?

Conversion is not a new issue to me. In the late 1980s and early 1990s while working for the peace movement in Florida I organized around this issue and built a statewide conference on the subject. The keynote speaker at that event was the President of the International Association of Machinists George Kourpias.

Kourpias came to BIW on Labor Day in 1994 and joined a star-studded cast that included President Bill Clinton, Sen. George Mitchell, Rep. Tom Andrews, BIW President Buzz Fitzgerald and other national and local labor leaders. They all called for the conversion of the shipyard to civilian production so there is indeed a tradition in Bath along these lines to ensure job and community stability.

As the planet heats up, the oceans warm and acidify, and Arctic ice melts we witness the release of methane that only accelerates the global warming problem. The Gulf of Maine is heating up and lobsters are heading north. Other troubling signs are revealing that we have a very short window to move toward a sustainable society before it is too late. All of us must make changes and we must start in our own communities. Our children are looking to us for leadership as Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria become the new normal.


Few had ever expected that the Naval Air Station in Brunswick would close but the transition has shown steady progress in converting the former base to alternative uses. But planning is essential.

Our nation is currently $20 trillion in debt and the response in Washington has been to print more funny money. Our domestic economy is hanging together by a shoestring. At any moment we could go belly up and military production facilities like BIW could quickly be shuttered.

We have every legitimate reason to begin planning now for a successful conversion process that enables us to create jobs and to build products that help us deal with global warming. We must ensure that workers are supported during any such transition process but that takes public discussion, political will and advance planning.

During the period of Oct. 13-21 a coalition of groups from Maine (including Veterans For Peace and PeaceWorks) will be undertaking the Maine Peace Walk for Conversion, Community and Climate. During those days volunteers will distribute flyers in Bath and Brunswick and other events will be held. Things will actually begin with the showing of a great new film called “Village versus Empire” on Oct. 12 at the Frontier Café at 7:30 p.m.

The public is invited to attend our Oct. 17 Pot Luck supper and panel discussion at 6 p.m. in Brunswick at the Unitarian Church across from the library. The public is also invited to our Walk finale event (speakers & music) at the Bath Waterfront Park on Saturday, Oct 21 from noon to 2 p.m.

Accepting our present condition of endless war to control fossil fuels is a dead-end street that if not reversed will lead to our collective demise. We must have a conversion that begins with our hearts and extends to the timely task of totally reorienting our national production system.

Bruce K. Gagnon is a member of PeaceWorks and lives in Bath.

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