Summary: US military will begin using the $800 billion Congress provides for the fiscal year 2023 on October 1. Military spending measures are blatantly anti-human, anti-climate, and anti-Earth. Our war machine wastes billions of dollars yearly that could be used for other pressing climate-related needs. Many greenhouse gases are produced during the building, upkeep, and usage of its 800 military sites. A B-2 bomber releases approximately two tonnes of carbon dioxide after just 50 miles of flight.
The Pentagon’s worst waste of money, the F-35 combat aircraft, would emit “just” one tonne after 50 miles. The Pentagon believes that global warming will only provide the military with more possibilities. Its analysts warn that “malign players may try to exploit regional instability exacerbated by climate change”. The Arctic has received particular emphasis in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence’s (DNI) assessment of climate risk. Is it time to stop the funding war at last?
The Pentagon causes terrible harm by squandering trillions of dollars in government funds on wars and climate change. War-makers should instead spend the money on “peace dividends” for countries most vulnerable to climate change, says the DNI report. If Washington started reducing its military budget, it would still be easy to afford that “peace dividend”. An increase in national security spending alone in 2022 could have gone a long way toward supporting Joe Biden’s comprehensive Build Back Better measure. Imagine how vital federal action on various issues could be funded if Congress started sharply reducing the money it lavishes on war.
Can anything be done to stop this nation’s money-sucking, carbon-spewing military behemoth after all these years? One of the few national organisations with a long history of actively participating in antiwar and climate movements is CODEPINK. Evans and CODEPINK keep pressing for change in Washington as the military-industrial complex and capitalism that destroys the planet only seem to strengthen. Could movements for economic democracy, Black lives, Indigenous sovereignty, climate justice and an end to American-style militarism coalesce from the local to the national level? Afghanistan’s Deputy Special Representative for Human Rights David Potzel has called for an inquiry into claims of extrajudicial murders in Panjshir, saying that “disturbing reports, as well as videos and images,” indicated possible significant human rights abuses there.
The US military will begin using the more than $800 billion Congress will provide for the fiscal year 2023 on October 1. And that enormous sum will only be the start. The funding for various intelligence agencies, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Energy Department’s work on nuclear weapons will add $600 billion to what you, the American taxpayer, will be spending on national security, according to calculations made by Pentagon expert William Hartung.
This annual amount of $1.4 trillion exceeds the $300 billion one-time commitment made by Congress for “climate mitigation and adaptation” in the recently approved Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). And remember that the money will be spent over the years. The country’s military funding measures are blatantly anti-human, anti-climate, and anti-Earth, in contrast to the IRA, which was primarily a climate bill (even if not the most refined version). Additionally, you can rely on the fact that Congress’s military expenditure will, in far too many ways, counteract the advantages of its new climate spending.
Here are the top three ways our military works against efforts to reduce global warming. First, it devastates the environment by producing vast amounts of greenhouse gases. Second, when the Pentagon does take climate change seriously, it rarely focuses on cutting greenhouse gas emissions instead of preparing militarily for a world with a changing climate, including the impending migration crisis and upcoming global armed conflicts brought on by a changing environment. Third, our war machine wastes hundreds of billions of dollars yearly that could be used for other pressing climate-related needs and mitigation.
The US military is the world’s largest institutional consumer of petroleum fuels. It thus generates annual greenhouse gas emissions of roughly 60 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide. Those numbers would rank the Pentagon only below Ireland and Finland in terms of national carbon emissions if the Pentagon were a nation. Or, to put it another way, our military generates more emissions than all of Slovenia, Croatia, and Bulgaria.
Many greenhouse gases are produced during the building, upkeep, and usage of its 800 military sites, along with other facilities spread across 27 million acres throughout the United States and the rest of the world. The combustion of jet fuel is, without a doubt, the primary source of emissions from actual military operations. For instance, a B-2 bomber releases approximately two tonnes of carbon dioxide after just 50 miles of flight. Yet, the Pentagon’s worst waste of money, the absurdly expensive F-35 combat aircraft, would emit “just” one tonne after 50 miles.
These numbers are taken from “Military- and Conflict-Related Emissions,” a paper published in June 2022 by the German Perspectives Climate Group. In it, the authors express regret for their initial optimism over the military’s role in experimenting with new, clean types of energy and the decrease of global military greenhouse gas emissions:
The Iraq Conflict, followed by the horror of yet another massive ground war, this time in Europe, shattered the basic idea of evaluating military actions as potential “engines of advancement” for emerging renewable technologies while drafting this report and reviewing our piece from 20 years ago. The 1.5° objective [of global temperature rise above the preindustrial level set at the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015] should be the focus of our attention. If we fail in this quest, the consequences will be more devastating than any war we have seen in recent years.
The Defense Department revealed in March that it will only allocate a pitiful $3.1 billion toward “addressing the climate catastrophe” in its budget for the fiscal year 2023. This is less than 0.4 percent of the department’s overall spending, and it just so happens that two-thirds of that meagre amount will be used to safeguard military infrastructure and operations against the effects of climate change in the future. Even worse, only a tiny amount of the remaining funds would be used to lessen the harm the armed forces will do to the environment through greenhouse gas emissions or other means.
The Pentagon stated that it was striving for a future in which it could “function under changing climate circumstances, sustaining operational capacity, and augmenting the natural and manmade systems crucial to the Department’s success,” however, this claim was made in a 2021 Climate Adaptation Plan. “In worst-case scenarios, climate change-related impacts could stress economic and social conditions that fuel mass migratory events or political crises, civil unrest, changes in the regional power structure, or even state breakdown,” it was predicted. This may impact American interests directly or indirectly, and American allies or partners may ask for help from the United States.
Unfortunately, the Pentagon believes that global warming will only provide the military with more possibilities. Its analysts, in a classic form of projection, warn that “malign players may try to exploit regional instability exacerbated by the repercussions of climate change to gain influence or for political or military advantage.” (Of course, since the Pentagon is a benign actor by definition, Americans would never behave in such a way, but they will have to react appropriately.)
The CIA and other intelligence organisations agree with the Pentagon’s assessment of our hotter future as a chance for economic growth. The Arctic, the area of the world that is warming the quickest, received particular emphasis in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence’s (DNI) 2021 assessment of climate risk. Did the necessity to stop the melting of the planet’s ice caps from keeping Earth habitable for humans be what piqued the intelligence community’s interest in it? How do you feel?
The potential that such a scenario will present from a military standpoint when the Arctic melts are described in illuminating detail by its authors:
Because of warming temperatures and melting ice, the Arctic and non-Arctic states will probably boost their competing activity as the region becomes more accessible. As the Arctic and non-Arctic states look to safeguard their financial investments, take advantage of new maritime routes, and outwit their adversaries, military engagement is likely to rise. As they see a threat to their security and economic interests, China’s and other non-Arctic governments’ growing presence is highly expected to create worries among Arctic states.
In other words, in a hot future, a new “cold” conflict won’t be confined to regions of the earth that were formerly more temperate.
Suppose there is anything that the military is concerned about globally regarding climate change. In that case, the potential conflicts could result from increased migration of people out of flood-devastated regions like Pakistan today. According to the DNI report, “displaced populations will increasingly demand changes to international refugee law to consider their claims and provide protection as climate migrants or refugees, and affected populations will fight for legal payouts for loss and damages resulting from climate effects” as more and more of us (or instead, in terms of national security states, of them) start fleeing heat, droughts, floods, and tropical cyclones. We won’t pay for climate compensation, and we won’t contribute to maintaining other people’s home climates as livable. Still, we’re more than prepared to spend whatever it takes to dissuade them from coming here, regardless of the humanitarian disasters that would follow.
Is It Time to Stop Funding War at Last?
Along with the damage brought on by its excessive greenhouse gas emissions and its use of climate chaos as a justification for imperialism, the Pentagon causes terrible harm by squandering trillions of dollars in government funds that ought to be used to address pressing human needs, slow down climate change, and fix the ecological damage its wars this century have brought about.
A group of British academics bemoaned the Biden administration’s eagerness for military spending months before Russia invaded Ukraine, ensuring that even more greenhouse gases would be released into our environment. Their article said that “initial budget requests for military appropriations are increasing even as some U.S. foreign operations are coming to an end, rather than being reduced to pay for vital climate-related spending.” To “tinker around the fringes of the U.S. war machine’s environmental impact,” they said, is fruitless. The money used to “buy and distribute gasoline across the U.S. empire may instead be spent as a peace dividend [that] includes considerable technology transfer and no-strings-attached financing for adaptation and clean energy to those countries most vulnerable to climate change,” according to the report.
If Washington started reducing its military budget, it would still be easy to afford that “peace dividend.” Also, during previous climate summits, wealthy nations on earth committed to sending the poorest ones $100 billion annually so they may expand their capacity for renewable energy while planning for and adapting to climate change. Very inevitably, wealthy countries like the United States have reneged on that commitment. Of course, it’s already remarkably too late for that meagre promise of just one hundred billion dollars; hundreds of billions per year are now required, as the recent unprecedented monsoon flooding of one-third of Pakistan—a country responsible for less than one percent of historic global greenhouse gases—suggests. Of course, Congress could take enough money from the Pentagon’s annual budget to pay its share of the cost of climate reparations worldwide. And that should only be the beginning of a significant change toward spending during peacetime—obviously, no such luck.
Increases in national security spending alone in 2022, as the National Priorities Project (NPP) has noted, could have gone a long way toward supporting Joe Biden’s comprehensive Build Back Better measure, which was defeated in Congress that year. That serves as yet another example of how, in the words of William Hartung, “almost anything the government wants to do other than preparing for or waging war involves a scramble for funding, while the Department of Defense gets virtually unlimited financial support,” frequently more than it even requests.
All 50 Republicans and one Democrat (yes, that guy) opposed the Democrats’ bill in the Senate, which would have provided substantial funding for the development of renewable energy, child care, health care, and assistance for economically disadvantaged families. They argued that the country couldn’t afford the bill’s $170 billion annual cost. But as the NPP notes, Congress pushed through increases in military spending in the six months that followed that totalled $143 billion, almost as much as Build Back Better would have cost annually!
As Pentagon specialists Hartung and Julia Gledhill recently observed, Congress frequently pulls similar pranks by giving the Defense Department more funding than it has requested. Imagine how much vital federal action on various issues could be funded if Congress started sharply reducing the money it lavishes on war and imperialism instead of increasing it.
A Combination of Movements Is Needed
Since the time of the Vietnam War, various iterations of the American antiwar movement have attempted, with varying degrees of success, to challenge the militarism of this nation. After accounting for inflation, Pentagon spending is at an all-time high. And, not by chance, the military and contemporary society continue to produce enormous amounts of greenhouse gases. Can anything be done to stop this nation’s money-sucking, carbon-spewing military behemoth after all these years?
One of the few national organisations with a long history of actively participating in antiwar and climate movements is CODEPINK, a women-led grassroots organisation. Its cofounder Jodie Evans recently shared with me her vision for the need for “a whole new movement combining the antiwar movement with the climate movement.” She claimed that CODEPINK had set up a project called Cut the Pentagon to achieve precisely that objective. She puts this: “We all want to stop the war machine. Thus this coalition represents organisations that care about the interests of people, the earth, and the anti-war movement. After 20 years of a “War on Terror” that cost $21 trillion of our tax dollars, we started it on September 12 last year to destroy the globe, the Middle East, and our neighbourhoods and turn peacekeeping police into warring police. Evans claims that Cut the Pentagon has “practically been executing actions in [Washington, D.C.] constantly since its start.”
Sadly, in 2022, the antiwar and climate change movements will have to overcome the nation’s most formidable economic and political strongholds. But CODEPINK is renowned for coming up with innovative tactics to confront the big interests it opposes and nonviolently disrupt the status quo. According to Evans, “I always felt my role as an activist for the previous 50 or so years was to make power uncomfortable and to disrupt it.” She continues, “Power is making us more uncomfortable than we are making it, though, since the Covid epidemic started. It is now more robust and militarized than earlier in my lifetime.
She continues, “One of the risks of this position is that social movements that succeed in expanding and becoming successful frequently find themselves coopted,” and over the past 20 years, “too many of us became lazy… We believed that “clicktivism” brings about change, but it doesn’t. Early in the Trump presidency, a large coalition sent 200 million messages to Congress to support an education measure, but we lost. Then, a month later, we only had 2,000 people, but we were present in the congressional chambers and managed to save Obamacare. Members of Congress dislike feeling uncomfortable.
Evans and CODEPINK keep pressing for change in Washington as the military-industrial complex and capitalism that destroys the planet only seem to strengthen. According to her, a window has suddenly begun to open: “For the first time since the 1960s and the early 1970s, it feels like a lot of people are seeing through the propaganda, actually being willing to establish new structures and new forms. We must go where our votes and voices are heard. Our work entails bringing about change locally. All of our divest-from-war initiatives are regional. People who care about the environment must learn how to make power uncomfortable. It’s not a verbal duel. It’s a battle of the beings.
The key challenges we currently face are so intricately intertwined that perhaps grassroots attempts to address them can eventually unite. The issue still stands: Could movements for economic democracy, Black lives, Indigenous sovereignty, climate justice, and, most importantly, an end to American-style militarism coalesce from the local to the national level? Our future might be at stake.
Analysis by: Advocacy Unified Network