Climate change — whose security?
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There is no doubt that climate change is going to cause widespread social disruption. Nevertheless, focusing too hard on the national security aspect probably isn’t the best idea. Higher walls are not a solution to climate change. Neither is demonizing refugees and other frontline victims as security threats.
Unfortunately, this over-emphasis on security has been all the rage this week following a report from the largest single consumer of oil on the planet, the US Department of Defense.
The report calls climate change a “threat multiplier,” and outlines how the military should respond to everything from the flooding of coastal bases to the proliferation of climate-related pandemics and refugees.
But what does it actually mean when the Pentagon starts to talk about climate security? Part of the answer is: it means they’re missing the point.
First of all, the report puts a premium on securing the arctic. In no uncertain terms, it says that the rapid melting of sea ice justifies a more robust military presence. The reason? In order to “…monitor events, safeguard freedom of navigation, and ensure stability in this resource-rich area.”
If this reference to “resource-riches” sounds ominous, it’s because it is. The Obama administration has talked openly about arctic oil and gas, made newly available by rising temperatures, and how exploiting it could be a major boon for US energy interests. The role of the military—in staking a US claim and scaring away rivals like Russia—is fairly self-evident.
This is a problem. A strategy document purporting to deal with climate change definitely shouldn’t include directions on how to secure more fossil fuel. Particularly if those fuels are only available because of runaway climate change in the first place.
Although it sure is nice to have a federal agency responding to the reality of climate change, there is a bigger reason that the green Hawks at the Pentagon may be better served by rethinking their own priorities.
Assume for a second that we have all the solutions we need to solve the climate crisis. We know what policies will work the best — a carbon tax here, a feed-in tariff there — and we have the technology already to secure most of our energy from renewable sources by 2050, if not much sooner.
The problem is not a lack of solutions; the problem is an unwillingness to implement the only real solution that would make a difference—a wholesale re-ordering of our social and economic priorities. Actually moving forward means making hard choices about how to allocate our collective wealth. It means committing money, a great deal of money, to building new public transportation systems, cities that are resilient to climate disaster, and enough renewable energy and smart grid capacity to make fossil fuels redundant.
At a time when these green investments are urgently needed, the Pentagon remains the single biggest piece of evidence in the case against how we spend money. Even with the sequester, defense spending remains near historically high levels at around $500 billion a year. Considering that this is still more than the next eight countries combined — most of whom are allies — it’s fair to say that a big chunk could be removed and make us no less safe. In fact, in 2013 this spending amounted to 19 percent of the entire federal budget, the biggest piece of non-entitlement spending by far. Even trimming around the edges of this giant sum could make a huge difference in transitioning our economy away from fossil fuels.
So instead of taking the Pentagon’s advice on how to treat climate change as a security threat, maybe the best thing to do is divert a few of those billions and join Mattea Kramer and Miriam Pemberton in beating our swords into solar panels.
Photo via Wikimedia Commons