The connection between militarism and climate change is deep but underappreciated even by many environmental activists.
There is no chance of saving our planet from climatic disaster without comprehensive global curtailment of militarism. The United States, as the world’s leading practitioner of militarism, must take the lead in this imperative reduction.
Consider the following links between climate change and militarism:
- The Pentagon is the world’s largest institutional emitter of greenhouse gases, emitting more greenhouse gases than the countries of Sweden, Norway, Finland or Portugal. Between 2001 and the present, the Pentagon discharged more greenhouse gasses than were expelled by all U.S. passenger cars over the last 40 years. The B-52 Stratofortress, for example, consumes as much energy in one hour as the average car driver uses in seven years.
- Wars and military operations ravage the environment. The environmental destruction wrecked by the U.S. military on Korea, Vietnam and Iraq will require many decades (perhaps centuries) to restore. Three major Israeli military assaults upon the Gaza Strip left 97% of the fresh water unfit for human consumption. Saudi bombing of Yemen has created an environmental calamity, including a vast cholera epidemic. Military bases routinely contaminate the air, pollute the soil and impair the drinking water.
- Militarism undermines the international cooperation required to mitigate global climate change. Even without warfare, militarism fosters distrust and hostility between nations — and these sentiments accelerate militarism. A new Cold War between the United States and Russia and/or China would be a death sentence for the global collaboration mandatory to render our endangered planet habitable in future decades.
- Militarism absorbs the funds needed to cope with climate change. The United States is far and away the world’s largest military spender. Our military expenditures currently exceed those of the next seven biggest military spenders combined. If the Pentagon’s annual budget were cut in half, it would still surpass the pooled military finances of Russia, China and Korea. Over the past two decades, the U.S.A. has spent $6.4 trillion on wars. This would be far more than needed to convert our entire national power grid to renewable energy. Funding a Green New Deal is simply not feasible without deep cuts in military spending.
- The military-industrial complex and the fossil fuel industry are deeply intertwined. The military establishment is the fossil fuel industry’s best customer. The fossil fuel industry encourages development of energy-guzzling military weapons, and the industry’s access to energy resources requires extensive military protection. Conversely, control of oil is a major justification for our gigantic military establishment. About one-third of all interstate wars since 1973 have been linked to oil.
- Militarism fosters a brutal response to climate change-induced migration. It is estimated that climate change will create between 200 million and 1 billion refugees by 2050. Human welfare and world peace will require orderly and compassionate redistribution of world population across national borders. But militarism promotes the exact opposite: exclusion walls, heavily armed border patrol agents, refugee prisons, endemic border violence and even interstate warfare.
- Militarism could lead to nuclear warfare and climate catastrophe. Nuclear weapons are an almost inevitable consequence of militarism. The existence of nuclear weapons creates the possibility of nuclear warfare. Even a small nuclear war involving less than 50 nuclear weapons would be a climate catastrophe causing mass starvation of unprecedented magnitude.
In his important book “The Green Zone: The Environmental Costs of Militarism,” Barry Sanders makes this terrifying claim on page 22: “[E]ven if every person, every automobile, and every factory suddenly emitted zero emissions, the Earth would still be headed headfirst and at full speed toward total disaster for one major reason. The military … produces enough greenhouse gases, by itself, to place the entire globe, with all its inhabitants large and small, in the most imminent danger of extinction.”