In the aftermath of the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a reduction in the burning of fossil fuels due to lockdowns and a decline in industrial activity. Some climate change activists have seen this as a silver lining to the current crisis. However, this will not last if we do not start building a new economy which will be non-extractive and non-militaristic.
A new report titled “No Warming, No War: How militarism fuels the climate crisis-and vice versa” points to the direct links between an extractive economy, the military and the increasingly deteriorating climate. The report was prepared by Lorah Steichen and Lindsay Koshgarian and published by the National Priorities Project at the Institute of Policy Studies in the US.
The US withdrawal from international climate negotiations under the Trump administration and its treating climate emergency as any other national security issue has diverted attention and resources away from the attempts of urgent mitigation of global warming in the country.
The report is critical of the so-called “armed lifeboat” approach according to which growing militarisation is the solution to problems caused by climate change. “True climate solutions must have anti-militarism at their core,” the report underlines.
According to the authors of the report, our pre-COVID-19 “normal” was defined by unfettered capitalism thriving on the devastation of our planet, the devaluation of human life and the use of military force to perpetuate both. The US has used its military power to capture the world’s oil resources through war and forceful suppression of dissenting groups such as indigenous populations.
The extractive economy is based on racial discrimination where it is okay to kill others to take their resources to maintain the living standards of the rich.
The fact that close to half of all interstate wars waged since 1973 have been linked to oil says a lot, the report says, highlighting the need to shift away from culture of war to a culture of care.
Growing militarism and the extractive economy does not just kill people; it also harms the environment, risking the future of humankind. There are numerous studies about the role of the extractive economy in bringing climate change. However, we often neglect how the military, which is used to safeguard these polluting industries, is itself one of the largest polluters, the authors of the report say.
According to the report, the Pentagon is the world’s largest institutional user of petroleum. With more than 800 bases in over 90 countries, a force of over 2 million personnel and an annual budget of more than USD 700 billion, the US military produces 59 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions every year which is more than what industrialised countries such as Portugal or Sweden produce.
According to the report, one B-52 Stratocruiser consumes as much oil in an hour as an average car does in seven years.
Hence, militarism and climate change are fundamentally at odds, the report concludes. The military cannot deal with climate change because it is the cause of it. The security-based approach to climate change mitigation is racist and classist because it is designed keeping the interests of the rich in mind, and leaves the black, brown and indigenous populations, and the poor out.
The report says that the climate-changed world will see more cross border migration when poor countries face the withering away of their natural resources and agriculture. The security-based approach will create more militarisation. We are already witnessing the growing militarisation of borders across the world. In the US, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has continued its raids, detention and deportation of migrants even during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Demilitarisation and simultaneously working for a climate just society needs a diversion of focus and resources to develop the green economy. According to the report, if we divert the existing military budget in the US, we can create 40% more jobs which will be better in terms of wages and in quality. In brief, “energy efficiency retrofits create nearly twice the number of jobs.”
In 2020, the military budget was 272 times higher than the federal budget for energy efficiency and renewable energy. “Compared to the $6.4 trillion spent on war in the past two decades, the cost of shifting the US power grid to 100% renewable is an estimated $4.5 trillion.”
The report highlights that the current crisis demonstrates the necessity of a just transition from a “bank and tank” economy to one rooted in “cooperation and care. “We have enough to live well, without living better at others expense,” the report says.