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'No Warming, No War': Report Details How US Militarism and Climate Crisis Are Deeply Interwoven

"In the face of both COVID-19 and the climate crisis, we urgently need to shift from a culture of war to a culture of care."

A U.S. fighter jet practices maneuvers over the desert.

A U.S. fighter jet practices maneuvers over the desert. (Photo: U.S. Air Force by Master Sgt. Benjamin Bloker)

A new report examining the federal budget illuminates the deep connections between the climate emergency and the U.S. military, arguing that the shift to a green economy requires a just transition away from both fossil fuels and endless war.

The report, entitled No Warming, No War: How Militarism Fuels the Climate Crisis—and Vice Versa (pdf), says that the ongoing coronavirus pandemic "has utterly changed life as we know it" and warns against working toward a return to an old normal which was "defined by unfettered capitalism that thrives on the devastation of our planet, the devaluation of human life, and the use of military force to perpetuate both."

"On a local and global scale, humanity and community have been co-opted by profit and violence. This 'normal' has now brought us to the brink of an existential crisis as climate change continues nearly unabated," co-authors Lorah Steichen and Lindsay Koshgarian write in the foreword. "In the face of both COVID-19 and the climate crisis, we urgently need to shift from a culture of war to a culture of care."

The report was published Wednesday, the 50th annual Earth Day, by the National Priorities Project (NPP) at the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS). A 2014 Nobel Peace Prize nominee, NPP tracks military spending and promotes a federal budget "that represents Americans' priorities, including funding for people's issues such as inequality, unemployment, education, health, and the need to build a green economy."

Along with a summary on the IPS website and a blog post by Steichen, NPP produced infographics highlighting the report's major findings, including that up to half of all interstate wars since 1973 have been linked to fossil fuel resources, particularly in the oil-rich Middle East. According to NPP, "The U.S. military spends an estimated $81 billion a year to protect the world's oil supplies—even before accounting for the Iraq war."

As NPP's experts explain, the massive U.S. military—with its over two million members and an annual budget exceeding $700 billion—is "among the biggest polluters" on the planet, producing about 59 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year, more than countries such as Sweden, Denmark, and Portugal, according to the Costs of War Project at Brown University's Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs.

Steichen and Koshgarian found that transitioning the nation's power grid to 100% renewable energy over the next decade would cost an estimated $4.5 trillion, which not only would generate more jobs than the military but is also less costly—in lives and dollars—than the $6.4 trillion that the U.S. has spent on war since 2001.

Echoing demands of climate campaigners, the report calls for ending all direct and indirect subsidies for coal, oil, and gas, which would save about $649 billion a year. Coupled with redirecting $350 billion of the Pentagon's spending, the total savings could amount to nearly $1 trillion that the country could instead put toward renewable energy.

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"Enforcing fair taxes on the wealthy, corporations, and Wall Street could yield $866 billion," the report adds. "When we take back our resources from elites who profit off violent wars, weapons, and walls we can reinvest trillions of dollars back into our communities and begin to repair the harm inflicted on people and the planet by militarization at home and around the world."

The report also takes aim at the corporations—both military contractors and energy giants—that reap massive profits from the devastation of war and fossil fuel extraction. The analysis specifically calls out Lockheed Martin, Boeing, General Dynamics, Raytheon, and Northrop Grumman as well as BP, Shell, Chevron, and ExxonMobil.

Decrying violent law enforcement and government responses across the nation to protests against land dispossession and resource extraction, the report highlights how "as policing continues to be militarized, state legislatures around the country increasingly criminalize dissent" and punish people from front-line and Indigenous communities for fighting to ensure a safe and healthy future. 

The report also points out mounting evidence that, as communities across the globe continue to endure the impacts of the climate crisis, "these new ecological realities will compound existing conflicts, cause more political instability, and dislocate unprecedented quantities of people." Thus, the NPP experts declare, "immigrant justice is climate justice, and challenging militarism is critical to achieving both."

"To achieve climate justice, we must transform the extractive economy we have now that is harming people and ecosystems," the report says. "Resisting militarization is core to building an economy that works for people and the planet. As such, we must pursue solutions to the climate crisis that challenge the violent and oppressive systems that have fueled war and warming for generations."

The report's conclusion features five principles for collective action:

  1. All human life has equal value.
  2. Economies are only as healthy as people and the planet.
  3. All people have a right to self-determination.
  4. There is enough for everybody.
  5. We are all interconnected and so are our movements.

"We hope that this resource will contribute to existing conversations about climate change and militarism by highlighting the ways that the two fuel each other," Steichen and Koshgarian write of their new report. "We also hope that this resource will spark new questions and help facilitate dialogue—and coordination—across movements. When we come together we can build the just future we deserve."

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