Militarism’s Direct Impact on the Climate Crisis

Excerpts of a presentation by Adrian Huq, a member of the New Haven Climate Movement Youth Action Team, recorded and produced by Melinda Tuhus

The youth of America are stepping up to take leadership roles in many of the social movements that are exploding across the country. In particular, the struggle for racial justice and climate justice have seen even grade school children speaking out. The peace movement, however, seems to lag behind, with a majority of its activist members in many communities, from the baby boom generation.

But a young woman in New Haven, Connecticut, is breaking that mold. Adrian Huq is a 2020 high school graduate who is now a student at Tufts University, pursuing environmental studies.

Adrian Huq, who uses they/them pronouns, is also a leader of the Youth Action Team of the New Haven Climate Movement. When they were invited to sign on to a local referendum calling for cutting the federal military budget and redirecting those funds to human needs, they immediately got involved and joined the New Haven Peace Commission, an official city body.

The following is an excerpt of Adrian Huq’s talk on the climate crisis and militarism that they presented at the Connecticut Peace Conference on Jan. 9.

ADRIAN HUQ: After learning what the federal military budget looks like and how it clearly prioritizes militarism over the quality of life for our residents — and, of course, the environment within the U.S. — it became urgent to me that we must mobilize to change our reality and defund the military. The truth is that funding trillions of dollars into the military to wage endless wars and establish dominance has prevented us from investing in true security and services for our people in the U.S.

So, now I want to go over some really key points to how the climate crisis is related to militarism. So, first, the U.S. Department of Defense is the largest single producer of greenhouse gases in the world. Not surprisingly, U.S. militarism degrades the environment and contributes directly to climate change, and according to a recent study from Brown University, the U.S. Department of Defense is the world’s largest institutional user of petroleum and so correspondingly, it is the single largest producer of greenhouse gases in the world.

Next, control over oil causes war. So, oil is the leading cause of war. An estimated one-quarter to one-half of all wars since 1973 have been linked to oil, and the U.S. is not exempt from fighting wars for oil. The vast military infrastructure around the world is also strategically positioned in oil- and resource-rich regions and along shipping lanes that keep the fossil fuel economy in operation around the globe and by far our greatest militarization has been in the Middle East where more than half of the world’s oil reserves are also located.

Also, unsurprisingly, military infrastructure and equipment has a huge carbon footprint. So, maintaining an expansive military requires significant investment in carbon-intensive infrastructure and gas-guzzling equipment and there are 800 U.S. military bases in 90 countries and territories across the globe and so the associated carbon footprint is tremendous.

Of course, the act of warfare is carbon intensive. The U.S. military has emitted more than 1.2 billion metric tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere since the present era of American conflicts beginning in 2001. All of this ruins the health of the environment and the people living there. U.S. military operations wreak havoc on the environments, where it wages war. Also, most of the bases store large quantities of weapons, explosives and other hazardous waste and nearly all of them contain hazardous chemicals. In the U.S. alone, there are tens of thousands of polluted sites that are linked to military contamination, and that is not even including the toxic legacy that’s left behind in sites where there’s little accountability or oversight. An example of that is the burning of military waste in Iraq contributed to the widespread poisoning of the environment and the elevated rates of cancer and birth defects described as the highest rate of genetic damage to any population ever studied.

As we know, we have an over-investment in the military, and that means there’s an under-investment in many, many other social issues, and that includes climate action and humanitarian aid. In 2020, military spending accounted for 54 percent of all federal discretionary funding, which is a total of $756 billion. And by comparison, the federal budget included only $2.7 billion for energy efficiency and renewable energy, meaning the military budget in 2020 was 272 times larger than for energy efficiency and renewable energy. Also, for every dollar spent on diplomacy and humanitarian aid in 2020, the U.S. spent $16.65 on the military.

And so this underfunding of aid and diplomacy has terrible implications for the climate crisis, since it is a global problem and climate justice depends on international cooperation and helping other countries out. Compared to the $6.4 trillion spent on war in the past 20 years, the cost of shifting the U.S. power grid to 100 percent renewable energy is estimated to cost just $4.5 trillion, so we could have shifted off our country’s fossil fuel reliance with money to spare, but instead we chose violence and destruction.

Climate change brings along the prospect of even more conflict, so this is something of a feedback loop. Climate chaos in turn leads to massive displacement, militarized borders and the prospect of further conflict. To map that out, warfare contributes to climate change, and then the unrest that comes about afterwards can cause even more wars and even more environmental damage. So if we don’t transform our society now, we will face even more injustices and conflicts in a climate-changed future.

And lastly, I wanted to tie this into workers’ rights. Extractive and militarized industries trap and exploit workers. I wanted to make this link because the exploitation of workers is directly tied to the exploitation of our environment. And just as with extractive industries, such as the fossil fuel industry, militarized industries, such as weapons manufacturing, create economic dependence, and some communities lack that economic self-determination and unfortunately have their future tied to the well-being of this industry. The U.S. military the military is the biggest federal jobs program in the U.S. and it has long preyed on low-income people and recruiting people who lack other options or have significant debt and instability. So the climate crisis must also address the absence of jobs that would come about by defunding the military. But luckily, funding a green economy instead of a bloated military budget would be a net job creator. For the same level of spending, clean energy and infrastructure would create 40 percent more jobs.

For more information on the New Haven Climate Movement, visit newhavenclimatemovement.org.

Subscribe to our Weekly Summary