By H Patricia Hynes | ( Portside ) | – –
If we are not united in peace, we cannot save the planet.
– Thich Nhat Hanh
War and Warming: Can We Save the Planet Without Taking on the Pentagon?
Looking out to my audience of young climate change activists and older peace activists gathered for a talk and discussion on “war and warming,” I see in the generational difference what many peace activists perceive. Peace, war, militarism, and nuclear weapons are an agenda of another era–an earlier era, while progressive political energy today is galvanized by climate change. (One climate activist explained that in his lifetime, no nuclear weapons had been used while climate change had worsened.) Thus, our movements largely work in silos, despite the actuality that war and fossil fuels have been fatally co-dependent since the Second World War.
Oil is indispensable for war and militarism. Think of it as the lifeblood coursing through our foreign policy, a policy based on maintaining superpower status and confronting those whom we perceive as challenging us. The 1980 Carter Doctrine, which stated that the United States would use military force if necessary to defend its national interests in the Persian Gulf, formalized the toxic nexus between access to oil and war. Since the late 1970s, the United States has spent $8 trillion protecting oil cargoes in the Persian Gulf through ongoing naval patrols. (1) Today the United States, China, Britain, France, the Netherlands and others trade arms for oil, directly and indirectly, with Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Nigeria and Venezuela. Keeping oil and gas supply sealanes in the South China Sea open, in the face of China’s expansionism there, is a factor in the US pivot to Asia. This foreign policy pivot has involved engaging Australia and Southeast Asian allies in military training exercises, opening new and previously closed bases to the US military, and sales of new weapons systems. (2) Further, the Obama administration prioritized a military “triangular alliance” with Japan, pressuring them to abandon their peace constitution, and South Korea, where the US has a military foothold on the Asian continent, for countering North Korea and the rising power of China. (3) This ratcheting up of military dominance is reliant on oil, the lifeline of weaponry, military exercises and war.
War for oil has come home. Militarized North Dakota police attacked non-violent water protectors protesting the Dakota Access oil pipeline with rubber bullets, tear gas, concussion grenades, and water cannons in sub-freezing temperatures. One medic treating injuries described it as a “low grade war.” (4)
A thumbnail sketch of recent US spending confirms the axiom that war culture is a defining feature of US politics. In 2016, as in previous years, an estimated $1 trillion was allocated to military defense, militarized national security, veterans, and debt from recent wars. In that same year a few billion dollars–crumbs from the master’s table–were allocated to research and development for energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies. (5) Between 2010-2015, the federal government invested $56 billion in clean energy internationally, while it recently committed to $1 trillion for modernizing nuclear weapons, their infrastructure and their delivery systems by 2030. (6)
What’s clear from US spending priorities is that access to oil and military dominance has governed US policy in the world. Add to this a thin-skinned bully as president surrounding himself with generals and we will likely get into deeper displays of male dominance. Foreign policy advisor to both Presidents Bush, Philip Zelikow, put it bluntly. With President Trump’s “ambient prickliness, we could end up picking a fight with three quarters of the world.” (7) The immense policy and spending inequality between military and renewable energy (one that mirrors our society’s massive economic inequality) retards sustainable energy research and development and accelerates the perilously trending climate change.
Militarism: An Engine of Climate Change
In 1940 the United States military consumed one percent of the country’s total fossil fuel energy usage; by the end of the World War II the military’s share rose to 29 percent. Militarism is the most oil-intensive activity on the planet, growing more so with faster, bigger, more fuel guzzling planes, tanks, and naval vessels. At the outset of the Iraq War in March 2003, the Army estimated it would need more than 40 million gallons of gasoline for three weeks of combat, exceeding the total quantity used by all Allied forces in the four years of World War 1. (8)
The frequency and prevalence of US armed conflict since World War II is another factor in the combustible mix of war and warming. One count has documented 153 instances of US armed forces engaged in conflict abroad from 1945 through 2004, a number consistent with other estimates. (9) This count, though, does not include covert military missions in which US Special Operations Forces (larger in number than the active-duty militaries of many countries) operate in 135 countries. Nor do the 153 military conflicts since 1945 include US occupation forces stationed abroad since World War II, military participation in mutual security organizations such as NATO, military base agreements for the estimated 1000 US military bases across the planet, and routine oil-intensive military training exercises around the globe.
In 2003, the Carter Doctrine was implemented with “shock and awe,” in what was the most intensive and profligate use of fossil fuel the world has ever witnessed. The projected full costs of the Iraq War (estimated $3 trillion) could have covered all global investments in renewable energy needed between now and 2030 to reverse global warming trends.
Between 2003 and 2007, the Iraq war generated more carbon dioxide equivalent in greenhouse gas emissions each year of the war than 139 of the world’s countries release annually. Re-building Iraqi (and Syrian and Yemeni) schools, homes, businesses, bridges, roads, and hospitals pulverized by the war will require millions of tons of cement, the most fossil fuel intensive of all manufacturing industries. (10)
After an unprecedented investigation into military use of fossil fuels, the scholar Barry Sanders calculates that the US military consumes as much as one million barrels of oil per day and contributes 5 percent of current global warming emissions. Few whole countries use more oil than Pentagon. (11) Yet, this comparison understates the extreme military impact on climate change. Military fuel is more polluting because of the fuel type used for aviation. Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from jet fuel are larger – possibly triple – per gallon than those from diesel and oil. Further, aircraft exhaust has unique polluting effects that result in greater warming effect by per unit of fuel used. (12)
Nor does this calculation include the fossil fuels used by civilian weapons makers. Their greenhouse gas emissions comprise both those from manufacturing and testing weapons and also the intensive cleanup of hazardous waste produced by them. Nearly 900 of the US Environmental Protection Agency’s approximately 1,300 Superfund sites are abandoned military bases/facilities or manufacturing and testing sites that produced conventional weapons and other military related products and services, according to the 2008-2009 Annual Report of the President’s Cancer Panel.
Climate Change in a Militarizing World
Climate change is inevitably an issue of peace because the Pentagon is the single largest contributor of climate change emissions in the world. And as the Pentagon goes, so go the military budgets of other major powers. “We are not your enemy,” a Chinese strategist told journalist John Pilger, “ but if you [in the West] decide we are, we must prepare without delay.” (13)
According to some security analysts, talk of fighting terrorism fills the media but is secondary in the talk of US and NATO generals, admirals and defense ministers. Many politicians of West and NATO believe that war between Great Powers (Russia and/or China) is not only possible but may break out at any time. Therefore, bigger spending in all involved countries on high-tech weapons, deploying more forces, and more military joint exercises will exacerbate climate change emissions and heighten the potential for nuclear war, risking another kind of climate change–nuclear winter. (14)
Others point to the elevation of generals by President-elect Trump to positions historically held by civilians in order to maintain civilian control of the military, namely Department of Defense, National Security Advisor and Department of Homeland Security. They are “enablers” and “accelerants to military action,” warns retired Colonel William Astore. “…[t]he future of U.S. foreign policy seems increasingly clear: more violent interventionism against what these men see as the existential threat of radical Islam… Both [the United States and radical Islam] embrace their own exceptionalism, both see themselves as righteous warriors, both represent ways of thinking steeped in patriarchy and saturated with violence, and both are remarkably resistant to any thought of compromise.” (15)
Growing global militarization portends greater military build up in Russia, China, NATO and the Middle East and greater climate change emissions. The United States expends 37 percent of the global military budget and its military is estimated to contribute 5 percent of climate change emissions. Can we not, then, assume that the rest of world’s military spending, weapons manufacturing, military exercises, and conflict combine to bring military-related fossil fuel emissions to near 15 percent of global climate change pollution? Intensifying military tensions will drive it higher and could vitiate country commitments to the Paris climate agreement.
Climate Change, Water Shortage and Conflict: Syria
Climate change is necessarily an issue of peace given the potential conflicts over the remaining oil as we near peak oil and given diminishing potable water supply and arable land. The UN panel that analyses climate science, the IPPC, concludes: “Water and its availability and quality will be the main pressure on and [critical] issue for societies and the environment under climate change.” Within little more than a decade, nearly one-half of the world’s people will be living in areas of high water shortage. (16)
The worst Syrian drought on record, from 2006 to 2011, caused agriculture to collapse; food prices to rise, thus aggravating poverty; and drove more 1.5 million farm workers and families to cities for survival. Simultaneously hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees from the US-led war in their country fled to Syrian cities. The extreme and rapid swelling in urban population from war and climate change-related water scarcity, combined with the lack of support from the Assad government for basic needs and services, added fuel to the fire of civil conflict and the current war in Syria. The Syrian scholar Suzanne Saleeby notes that “escalating pressures on urban areas due to internal migration, increasing food insecurity, and resultant high rates of unemployment have spurred many Syrians to make their political grievances publicly known… in popular uprisings…” (17)
While it is evident from history that the source of violence in societies suffering scarce resources is fundamentally inequality, injustice, poor economic and resource management, and lack of democracy, the stress of climate change on the Syrian society is neither isolated nor temporary; and it is worsening. The entire Middle East inexorably faces a hotter, drier climate from climate change that will further stress water resources, agriculture, food prices and existing conflicts. Thus, the seeds of future conflicts in authoritarian and unequal societies may also include scarce water resources as farmers and thirsty people, opportunistic politicians and powerful corporations contend for that diminishing resource.
War mirrors the culture of a country. US militarism–from its training, tactics, and logistics to its reasons for going to war and its weapons of war–is distinctly shaped by core elements of American identity. These determining cultural forces are, according to military historian Victor Hanson: manifest destiny; frontier mentality; rugged individualism; unfettered market capitalism; and what he calls a “muscular independence” (power projection in Pentagon–speak). (18) These eminently masculinist qualities converge to generate bigger, better and more destructive war technology. And they have delivered up a bullying, white nationalist, law-breaking billionaire and sexual predator as president.
The US habit and competence for war, with its origins in the past annihilation of Native Americans, may be our society’s nemesis unless we do critical soul-searching about our cultural and personal values and actively engage in transforming them. Let us remember and honor the plentitude of activist, non-violent movements in our society that have profoundly challenged the dominant patriarchal profile of our culture described by Hanson. These are the feminist violence against women and equal rights for women movement; the civil rights, immigrant and indigenous rights movements; the anti-war and peace movements; Black Lives Matter and Standing Rock water protectors; progressive media, peace and justice studies; progressive labor and health workers; the coop, sustainable agriculture, and Transition Town movements; and the pervasive climate change activism and victories against fracking and oil pipelines.
The challenge is how to build voice, social cohesion and public influence for our shared values of a sense of human community, our core connection as humans with nature, our empathy with the exploited and our thirst for equality and justice for all.
In these times of overt authoritarian and corporate control, our hope for turning the tide will come from local, community-based campaigns and actions. These comprise anti-fracking ordinances, town by town; the fight for $15 minimum wage city by city; churches and cities providing sanctuary for undocumented workers; children suing their government for their right to clean energy and a livable future; campaigns against all forms of violence against girls and women; using community media to promote equal rights for all; and electing people to local and regional office who champion these issues and campaigns.
Working together, we must turn the tide on these destructive forces and seek enduring peace on earth and enduring peace with earth.
This piece originated in talks given to 350.org CT and Promoting Enduring Peace, New Haven; Women’s International League for Peace and Justice, Boston branch; and the Women’s Pentagon Action 2016 Forum.
6. “Obama Rolls Out Clean Energy Plans.” North American Windpower. Volume 13, Number 11, December 2016. p.12.
8. Barry Sanders (2009) The Green Zone: The Environmental Costs of Militarism. Oakland, CA: AK Press.
11. The Green Zone.
12. George Monbiot (2006). Heat: How to Stop the Planet from Burning. Cited in The Green Zone, p.72
16. http://www.oecd.org/environment/indicators-modelling-outlooks/40200582.pdf )
Pat Hynes, a retired environmental engineer and professor of environmental health, directs the Traprock Center for Peace and Justice in western Massachusetts http://traprock.org.
Related video added by Juan Cole: