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Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.)

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) on Wednesday unveiled a climate plan for the U.S. military that was quickly criticized by progressives. (Photo: Elizabeth Warren/Facebook)

Sorry, Critics Tell Warren, Greening US Empire's "Powerful War Machine" No Answer to Climate Crisis

"Fighting the climate crisis is not about enabling the largest and most powerful military in human history to be more efficient in its destructive missions."

Jessica Corbett

Anti-war critics are responding to Sen. Elizabeth Warren's new climate "resiliency and readiness" proposal to reform the U.S. military with warnings that trying to "green" the Pentagon without addressing the destructive impacts of its bloated budget and American imperialism is a misguided way to combat the emergency of global warming.

"The most powerful war machine on the planet is never going to be 'green.'"
—Naomi Klein, author and activist

Warren is an original co-sponsor of the Green New Deal resolution that was introduced in February, just two days before the Massachusetts Democrat officially kicked off her 2020 presidential campaign.

Like several other proposals since then, Warren unveiled the Defense Climate Resiliency and Readiness Act in a Medium post Wednesday. But unlike many of her other proposals—from breaking up big tech and wiping out student debt to establishing universal childcare—this latest one was met with deep concern, not praise, from progressives.

While broadly praising Warren's presidential campaign, author and activist Naomi Klein tweeted Wednesday: "The most powerful war machine on the planet is never going to be 'green.' The outrageous military budget needs to be slashed to help pay for a Global Green New Deal."

Klein's comments were echoed by other critics of Warren's proposal, who instead called for curbing the Pentagon's massive carbon footprint "through shrinking the military and ending empire." Some pointed out that, by contrast, another 2020 candidate and backer of the Green New Deal, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), aims to "meaningfully [confront] imperialism."

While Sanders said in April that "climate change is a threat to our national security," he also has vowed to slash military spending, telling Vox earlier this month that he "will present a thoughtful budget that meets the defense needs of this country without just simply supplying billions of dollars of unnecessary money to the military industrial complex."

Warren, in her Medium post, acknowledges that the military is "the single largest government consumer of energy, and it's dependent on fossil fuels." She also notes that "the Pentagon itself recognizes the threat" posed by the global climate crisis.

Her plan would:

  • instruct the Pentagon to achieve net zero carbon emissions for all non-combat bases and infrastructure by 2030;
  • fine contractors that haven't achieved net zero carbon emissions one percent of the total value of the contract;
  • create a senior Defense Department position "to ensure that, top to bottom, our military is prioritizing the climate threat";
  • "invest billions of dollars into a new, 10-year research and development program at the Defense Department focused on microgrids and advanced energy storage"; and
  • require the Pentagon "to produce an annual report evaluating the climate vulnerability of every U.S. military base at home and abroad."

"We don't have to choose between a green military and an effective one," she wrote. "My energy and climate resiliency plan will improve our service members' readiness and safety, all while achieving cost savings for American taxpayers."

Warren's plan comes as campaigners with the youth-led Sunrise Movement are working to make the Green New Deal a top priority of the 2020 Democratic presidential primary and peace activists are drawing attention to how the U.S. military contributes to the global climate crisis.

As Robert Shetterly wrote for Common Dreams this week, "the humongous size of the U.S. military is endangering the survival of all plant and animal species on this planet."

The U.S. military—with its nearly 1,000 bases worldwide and insatiable reliance on fossil fuel to keep all of its ships, planes, tanks, trucks, and jeeps running—is the single largest source of carbon dioxide emissions (the gases causing climate change) in the world. The Pentagon's carbon footprint is 70 percent of total U.S. emissions. Our military uses more oil than 175 smaller countries combined. The U.S. Navy's firepower outmatches the next 20 countries combined. We spend more on our military than the next seven countries—that includes China and Russia.

Those statistics are meant to identify a problem. The problem is that if we are serious about reversing the climate course we are on, we are not going to succeed by changing light bulbs. Nor will electric cars and local organic farms do it. Even legions of solar panels and wind turbines won't cut it. We've got to cut the military, too.

Demanding "a more internationalist Green New Deal," Arturo Desimone recently made the case in a piece published by DiEM25 that "our very ability to implement these ambitious climate-saving programs requires the basis of peace."

"We should be wary, then, of rhetoric that 'green-washes' war, as when [former President Barack] Obama insisted that drone aircraft proved 'more ecological' than earlier bombers," he warned. "We should be wary, as well, of the Singaporean regime's pride in its solar-powered city-state, walled off from the conflict that surrounds it."

"To successfully realize global Green reconstruction, and the employment it could generate, we must also pressure states to preserve peace," added Desimone. "Conflict zone[s] with harsh sunlight may be perfect for the installation of solar panels, but their inhabitants are far too busy fighting for their survival."

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