US Militarism and Climate Change

by Angelo Olayvar

Earth Day is an annual one-day event on April 22 that seeks to show support for the protection of the environment. According to the official website, the 2021 Earth Day theme is ‘Restore Our Earth’, which focuses on natural processes, emerging green technologies, and innovative thinking that can restore the world’s ecosystems. Events like Earth Day give hope for the future of our home planet.

Weeks after President Joe Biden signed an executive order that made the United States a part of the Paris Climate Accord again, he indicated that he is looking at the possibilities of increasing US military spending by 1.7%. The United States of America had already spent approximately $721.5 billion on its military in the fiscal year 2020. This colossal spending is made possible through the political will of American policymakers who intend to protect American national and security interests. But what does this mean in terms of protecting our environment and averting the catastrophic consequences of climate change? Obviously, increasing military spending means allowing the continuation of military activities and operations that are environmental stressors. The activities and operations of the US military are evidently unsustainable because of the tremendous amounts of carbon emissions these release to the atmosphere. Thus, it is without doubt that scientists and climate activists recognize the far-reaching impacts of the US military and its activities on the environment. If the United States is really serious about addressing climate change, it needs to recognize the fact that its own military is considered to be the top climate polluter in history and a bigger polluter than the next 140 countries combined.

A report published by the United Nations Department of Political and Peacebuilding affairs concludes that the far-reaching consequences of climate change, such as drought and rising sea level, have the potential to foster conditions that can result in violence, instability, climate displacement, and forced migrations. Moreover, recent historical events demonstrate that large-scale human migrations increase the chance for conflict and turmoil as new populations attempt to intermingle and compete for resources against established populations. These kinds of scenarios, produced by changing and extreme weather patterns, greatly affect regional and global peace and security. Thus, if the world fails to fundamentally address climate change soon, armed conflicts, humanitarian crises, and instability, brought by climate change, could be on the horizon. If the United States wants to protect its reputation as a reliable global leader, it needs to spearhead the creation of solutions that will address the root cause of these impending disastrous and catastrophic scenarios events — climate change.

As mentioned earlier, the US military is the world’s biggest polluter. The wide array of activities that the United States conducts during peacetime and wartime has substantial effects on the environment — from the amount of hazardous wastes it produces to the number of its nuclear tests to the wartime activities and operations it conducts. The activities and operations of the US military have contaminated large swaths of lands of Indian reservations, resulted in the desertification of 90% of Iraqi territory, contributed to the continued high levels of radiation in many islands in the Pacific Ocean, and so much more. It is no surprise that the continued and increasing militarism of the United States can be linked to the changing and extreme weather patterns. Furthermore, The past environmental record of the US military shows that its current policies are unsustainable. However, this did not discourage many American policymakers and top pentagon officials from blatantly planning future contamination of the environment through increased military activities.

Proponents of US militarism argue that a strong and well-funded military is necessary for protecting American national interests and preserving global peace and stability. For decades, the US military has been called to play an active role in humanitarian aid and disaster relief around the globe to preserve peace and stability. However, is a militarized response or the utilization of the US military really effective in maintaining regional peace and stability? Many would argue that the humanitarian interventions authorized by the United States are counterproductive and oftentimes resulted in disastrous results. For example, the response of the United States to the conflicts and crises in the countries in the Middle East, Central and South America, and Africa resulted in a disaster and worsened the situation. Given the fact that the US military and its activities contribute greatly to climate change that produce situations and conditions that will necessarily require a more robust US military activities, is it logical to support the idea of relying on the US military in addressing humanitarian crises and conflicts instead of diplomacy? Moreover, does it make sense to continue on sustaining and expanding military activities and operations that fuels climate change and its consequences?

This piece briefly explored the implications of the activities and operations of the US military on the environment. It is right to ethically and morally question various human activities that fuel inequality and perpetuate a cycle that unnecessarily causes people to suffer. As indicated, the US military budget is a whopping $721.5 billion, and many American policymakers are wanting to add more. This large sum of money will allow the US military to continue and expand  its unsustainable practices that can put more stressors on the environment. It is time that American lawmakers and top officials recognize that the United States needs funding for education, health, and renewable energies, not funding for more nuclear bombs and chemical weapons. The world needs peace which can be fully achieved if we pursue environmental justice.

References:

https://dppa.un.org/en/addressing-impact-of-climate-change-peace-and-security

https://www.ipb.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/briefing-paper.pdf

https://www.ecowatch.com/military-largest-polluter-2408760609.html

https://www.telesurenglish.net/news/5-Disatrous-US-Led-Humanitarian-Interventions-20190219-0024.html

Climate justice is economic justice, and economic justice is racial justice.

“Poverty, peace, justice, and climate change are inexorably linked. There can be no hope for justice, no hope for an end to poverty, and no hope for peace if we continue on our present path. We must confront inequality while weaning ourselves from the very fossil fuels that built our economic wealth. We must work to build peace while reducing air pollution. This new path for us leads to God’s plan for a new creation.

To walk this path, we must first accept that climate change is a moral, spiritual, and human issue, and not a political debate. We must confess our role in the problem and be willing to reflect, pray, and have loving conversations about these complex challenges. We must seek and support solutions that restore dignity to the underprivileged, promote peace, and protect God’s earth.” Creation Care. 2018 Church of the Brethren Statement

So far in our exploration of economic justice and economic peacemaking in this pandemic, we have looked at simple living in a time of consumerism and racial justice as it relates to economic justice. In this third blog, former BVSer and OPP associate Susu Lassa dives into the interconnectedness of creation care, racial justice, and economic justice.

By Susu Lassa

Economic justice is not attainable without climate justice. Patterns of institutionalized environmental racism within the U.S. has shown us the ways in which communities doing the least to contribute to the rise in greenhouse gases bear the brunt of climate fall out on their bodies and on their livelihoods. University of Michigan Sustainability highlights that more than 50% of people living within two miles of toxic waste facilities are people of color. Degradation of the land from toxins leads to lower land value, which hinders upward mobility and the ability to build wealth for members of those communities. In the face of natural disasters exacerbated by climate change, both domestically and internationally, black and brown communities and countries are disproportionately impacted, remaining most vulnerable physically, financially, and mentally. From Hurricane Katrina’s devastation of the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans, where the majority black population impacted were permanently displaced, to the flooding taking place in countries such as Pakistan, Uganda, and Kenya, black and brown bodies remain at risk, their bodies and livelihood bearing the brunt of a climate crises that they contribute least to.

A brief interrogation of capitalism can highlight the interconnected nature of various forms of oppression, namely the intersection between climate justice, economic justice, and racial justice. The nature of accruing wealth in a capitalist economy privileges profit -even profit gained via exploitation of land, people, etc.- over the wellbeing of communities affected by the ramifications of this economic system. Wealthy corporations often invade communities for natural resources or cheap labor, grabbing what they can at the expense of these communities. With little to no accountability for corporations existing within a capitalist political economy, these plundered communities are left doubly vulnerable: first susceptible to plundering by wealthy corporations and nations, and then left to bare the fallout from the poisoning of the land, air, and/or water around them, which impacts their bodies, health, and livelihood.

The intersection between environmental racism and healthcare has been magnified in the wake of the COVID-19 crises, as have various other injustices in existence before the pandemic. Black and brown communities remain hardest hit by the pandemic, both contracting and dying from the virus disproportionately. Reasons include enduring disparities in wealth and income that see black and brown bodies overrepresented on the frontlines as “essential” workers, and residential segregation, which sees the concentration of people of color in disempowered neighborhoods with low property values, freeways, and shipping centers. The effects of residential segregation on air pollution with regard to toxins such as PM 2.5 , a known carcinogen emitted from car engines and power plants, put folks in these communities at a higher chance of impaired heart and lung function, leaving them susceptible and highly vulnerable to COVID-19. Climate justice is economic justice, and economic justice is racial justice. The sooner we re-orient our understanding of the different structures of oppression as interconnected, the sooner we can address the environmental harms that have for decades disproportionately harmed brown and black bodies in the U.S. and all over the world.