Peace Train: Linking climate change and militarism

The Pentagon emits more greenhouse gases than Sweden, Norway, or Finland


Climate change is probably the greatest threat that humanity has ever faced.

In the immediate future we can expect severe storms, intense heat waves, diminished rainfall, severe droughts, reduced food production and rising sea levels. Far worse is yet to come. Unfortunately, many people who are deeply concerned about climate change do not understand the profound connection between militarism and climate change. Combating militarism may be the most effective way of addressing the climate change crisis.

The Pentagon, to take the most obvious fact, is the world’s largest institutional consumer of fossil fuels. If the Pentagon were a country, it would be the 47th largest emitter of greenhouse gasses. The Pentagon military establishment emits more greenhouse gases than Sweden, Norway, or Finland. Furthermore, the Pentagon gets massive funding that could otherwise be used to address our dire climate change crisis.  In the current fiscal year, military expenses consume 1.67 trillion dollars or 48% of the U.S. federal budget. If the Pentagon’s budget were cut in half, it would still exceed the combined military budgets of China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea. And half of the U.S. military budget would almost suffice to fund the entire Green New Deal.

Warfare obviously destroys the environment, but other military operations do the same.  Military bases pollute the soil and contaminate the drinking water. The Environmental Protection Agency identifies at least 150 U.S. military bases as Superfund sites due to dangerous soil and groundwater pollution. Foreign military establishments can also be environmental villains.  Israel’s multiple bombing attacks upon the Gaza Strip have destroyed power and sewage treatment facilities, rendering 97% of Gaza’s fresh water unfit for human consumption. Saudi Arabia’s continuing assault upon Yemen has produced an environmental and medical disaster, with 2,000 cases of cholera reported each day.

Oil and weapons have a symbiotic relationship. Wars, like the 1991 Gulf War against Iraq, were fought largely to ensure control over oil. U.S. military support for Saudi Arabia is motivated by access to Saudi fossil fuel resources. Our gluttonous appetite for fossil fuel actually requires a huge military establishment. Conversely, weapons producers such as Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Raytheon, Northrup Grumman and General Dynamics make huge profits from military expenditures. These corporations consequently foster and endorse our continued dependence on climate-corrupting fossil fuels.

Climate change also generates the social and political problems that lead to bloated military establishments and warfare. Syria, for example, experienced a fearsome drought causing serious crop failures and massive urban migration. These factors destabilized Syrian society and contributed to the sanguinary civil war that still continues. Environmental disasters often promote mass migration. This frequently engenders a hostile and militarized response in the places to which the migrants flee. Indeed, the climate change — migration — militarism sequence has occurred in Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and at our southern borders.  The association between environmental catastrophe and militarism will surely accelerate in the near future.

Perhaps the most critical linkage between militarism and climate change is political in nature.  The climate crisis is truly global, and an effective response must also be global.  But a dedicated and sustainable global response requires reasonably amicable relations between nations. Yet militarism systematically undermines trust between nations, and thereby undercuts willingness to adopt and abide by vital climate change covenants. The U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord was not directly motivated by militarism, but our position as the world’s dominant military power surely enabled President Trump’s unconscionable abandonment of the Paris Accord. China and the United States are the world’s top greenhouse gas emitters, but militarism makes these countries fear and distrust each other.  Given such fear and distrust, how can Chinese and U.S. political leaders ever reach a planet-saving climate compact?

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