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IPS' new report, "Combat vs. Climate: The Military and Climate Security Budgets Compared," supplies the most accurate climate change budget currently available, drawing data from multiple agencies. (Image: IPS)

Combat vs. Climate: The Military and Climate Security Budgets Compared

As our climate crisis plays out in increased refugee flows and natural disasters, the government is still wasting money on ineffective, traditional military security.

Miriam Pemberton

Our military calls climate change "an urgent and growing threat to our national security, contributing to increased natural disasters, refugee flows, and conflicts over basic resources like food and water."

And this month the Obama administration announced a comprehensive strategy to incorporate climate change into our national security strategy. But there was no mention of money: how much this would cost or where the money would come from.

Next month, we'll know whether we'll have a climate denier or an advocate for climate action in the White House, and a Congress either continuing to resist or ready to tackle this threat. They'll need to know what we're currently spending as a baseline for debate over what we need to spend. Next to regulation, money is the key tool government has to spur CO2 reductions in the atmosphere.

But the federal government hasn't produced a climate change budget since 2013. Meanwhile, we're at the white-hot center of the refugee crisis in Syria. And though the conditions leading to this tragedy were laid by geopolitics and internal politics, one of the worst long-term droughts in history that gripped the country from 2006 to 2010 also played a major role.

So the Institute for Policy Studies is stepping in to fill the gap. IPS' new report, "Combat vs. Climate: The Military and Climate Security Budgets Compared," supplies the most accurate climate change budget currently available, drawing data from multiple agencies. It shows that though the Obama administration has managed to boost climate change spending about $2 billion a year since 2013, substantial new investment commensurate with the threat of a climate crisis has been blocked.

Then the report looks at how spending on this "threat multiplier" stacks up within our overall security budget, as compared to spending on the traditional instruments of military force. It turns out that spending the proverbial ounce on climate change prevention for every pound of military cure, that is, a dollar for every $16 spent on the military would actually be an improvement. The current proportion is 1:28. Twenty-eight times as much money is going to military forces that will have to deal with the effects of climate change, in other words, as to investments in preventing this "urgent and growing threat" from getting worse.

It also looks at how our record lines up next to our peer adversary, China. China, of course, has now pulled ahead of the U.S. as the world "leader" in total current emissions. Butit also spends about one-and-a-half times what the U.S. spends on climate change – according not to China's own figures, but to U.N. data. Meanwhile, the U.S. spends more than two-and-a-half times what China spends on its military forces. So in terms of public expenditures, China's overall security budget strikes a distinctly better balance between military and climate spending – one that more closely tracks the magnitude of the security threat posed by climate change.

IPS' reapportionment of the security budget would fulfill the U.S.' role in holding global warming to 2 degrees centigrade – the standard that climate scientists say is necessary to prevent catastrophic climate change. It mandates such shifts as taking the money currently being spent on an extra cruise missile program that doesn't work, and using it instead to install 11.5 million square feet of solar panels on buildings, keeping 210,000 tons of CO2 out of the air annually.

This is our status quo: As global temperatures hit one record after another, Louisiana grapples with floods, several states have suffered wildfires and California has faced persistent water shortages, the stalemate in Congress over funding to respond continues. Climate scientists warn that, as in Syria, unless the global greenhouse gas buildup is reversed, the U.S. could be at risk for conflicts over basic resources like food and water.

Meanwhile, plans to spend $1 trillion to modernize our entire nuclear arsenal remain in place, and projected costs of the ineffective F-35 fighter jet program continue to climb past $1.4 trillion. Unless we get serious about moving the money, alarms from all over about the national security dangers of climate change will ring hollow.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

Miriam Pemberton

Miriam Pemberton is a research fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies. She co-chairs the Task Force on a Unified Security Budget with Lawrence Korb of the Center for American Progress.

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