Wars Dwarf Warming in US Budget

WASHINGTON - Despite growing recognition in the Pentagon and the intelligence community that global warming poses serious national security threats to the United States, Washington is spending 88 dollars on the military for every dollar it spends this year on climate-related programmes, according to a new study released here Thursday by the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS).The study, entitled "Military vs. Climate Security", found that the government has budgeted 647.5 billion dollars for the defence budget in 2008 -- more than the defence budgets of the rest of the world's nations combined -- compared to 7.37 billion dollars for climate-related programmes.

Of the latter total, moreover, only 212 million dollars is devoted to helping poor countries obtain clean, renewable energy sources that do not contribute to global warming -- less than what U.S. military forces in Iraq spend each day on operations there.

"While we spare no expense to wage war, we seem to have no money to spare on averting climate disaster," said Miriam Pemberton, the report's author. "The increasingly dire warnings from climate scientists make clear that changing these federal spending priorities can't wait."

Indeed, the report comes amid unprecedented global concern that climate change could have devastating consequences for much of the earth. Hardest hit will be the world's poor countries, which have fewer resources to cope with the threats posed by global warming, including more extreme weather events, prolonged droughts, and sea-level rise, which most scientists believe are inevitable if the world fails to quickly stabilise and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

That concern was underlined last month when the Nobel Committee awarded its annual peace prize to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the network of thousands of scientists whose warnings about the reality and impact of global warming have becoming increasingly urgent over the past 15 years, and former Vice President Al Gore, whose 2006 documentary film, "An Inconvenient Truth", significantly boosted popular consciousness of the threat, especially in the U.S.

In his acceptance speech in Oslo, Gore called on the nations of the world to mobilise to avert climate disaster "with a sense of urgency and shared resolve that has previously been seen only when nations have mobilised for war."

The martial analogy has been taken up by the Pentagon and the intelligence community, which have produced several reports about the national security consequences of changes in the world's climate.

Last May, a group of retired generals and admirals issued their own report, "National Security and the Threat of Climate Change", which found, among other things, that the consequences of warming were likely to promote inter-state conflict over vital resources, such as fresh water; political turmoil and extremism within nations; food shortages and mass migrations.

"Climate change acts as a threat multiplier for instability in the most volatile regions of the world," according to the report.

Despite these warnings, the Bush administration, which rejected participation in the 1997 Kyoto Protocol requiring industrialised countries to reduce their emissions on the grounds that it would be too expensive, has generally failed to acknowledge the security threats climate change poses.

From its initial scepticism that climate change was actually taking place and that greenhouse emissions were an important cause, however, the administration has moved to accept the phenomenon as real and that emissions need to be reduced. At the same time, it continues to oppose the imposition of mandatory curbs, such as those required by Kyoto.

In budgetary terms, the administration has gradually increased funding for climate-related programmes in relation to military spending, according to the IPS report, which noted that the 88:1 ratio between the two this year was "an improvement, no question" over the 97:1 ratio of the previous five years during which it spent 37 billion dollars on climate programmes compared to 3.5 trillion dollars on the Pentagon.

"It is also, no question, an inadequate improvement, given the relative magnitude of these problems," noted the report. "Terrorism is a serious problem. It doesn't surround us. The effects of climate change, on the other hand, will."

In the current year, according to the report, the lion's share of climate-related spending -- nearly four billion dollars -- will be on technology development. At the same time, the Pentagon is receiving 77 billion dollars for its research and development (R&D) budget.

Despite the all-but-unanimous scientific consensus that climate change is well underway and proceeding at an accelerating rate, the second largest portion of the climate-change budget -- nearly two billion dollars -- is earmarked for a science programme designed to help resolve "the fundamental scientific uncertainties associated with climate change".

Most of those funds, the study notes, will go to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), whose director, Michael Griffin, recently told public radio that, while he did not doubt that a warming trend exists, "I am not sure it is fair to say that it is a problem we must wrestle with."

Despite warnings that climate change will create the great disruptions in the developing world, the smallest component of the climate budget -- a mere 212 million dollars -- is devoted to international assistance, according to the report. By contrast, Washington will spend nearly ten billion dollars in aid to foreign militaries.

The administration has not detailed how the climate-related international aid is being spent this year. But, in 2006 -- the last year for which it provided that information -- 90 percent of the total from that account was to be used for mitigating the effects of coal-fired plants in poor countries and promoting U.S. technologies to improve efficiency.

About eight percent of this account was allocated for programmes designed to help poor countries to deal with the impact of droughts, floods, crop and freshwater loss, severe weather and other potentially catastrophic effects of climate change.

In a potentially significant advance, Bush announced during his State of the Union address Monday that he would ask Congress to authorise two billion dollars for an international climate and clean-energy fund over the next three years. But he did not indicate how that money would be allocated.

(c) 2008 Inter Press Service

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