It may be only coincidence that, on the day President Trump arrived in London for the NATO Summit, the Secretary General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, warned of the “point of no return” for the Climate. He insisted that the political efforts of world leaders to stop catastrophic climate change have been “utterly inadequate”. He stated, “The point of no return is no longer over the horizon. It is in sight and hurtling towards us”.
Tomorrow, political delegates from over 200 countries will meet in Madrid to refine and enact the Paris Agreement of 2015. Too little and much too late. Meanwhile, those same leadership groups will meet within the remit of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) to agree higher military spending and threaten more warfare from South America to the Arctic Circle, Kashmir to the South China Seas, not to mention the maintenance of their continuing decimation of Afghanistan and Libya.
It should not be a secondary consideration for climate activists to challenge and oppose NATO and it’s imperialist wars. Even if the human tragedy and horror could be put to one side, the impact of war on global heating is phenomenal:
• the climate change impact of huge military bases around the world is considerable locally, regionally and globally. For example, it is estimated that US military consumes 395,000 gallons of oil daily alone. The entire world military establishment is wholly dependent upon and predatory for carbon-based fuels.
• The US military emits more global warming gases than the total emissions from 200 countries across the globe. Securing and deploying oil across the globe to the fuel-greedy hummers, jets and drones has become a growing preoccupation of NATO military strategists.
• The military is not just a prolific user of oil, it is one of the central pillars of the global fossil-fuel economy. Today whether it is in the Middle East, the Gulf, or the Pacific, modern-day military deployment is about controlling oil-rich regions and defending the key shipping supply routes that carry half the world’s oil and sustain our consumer economy.
• the environmental damage caused by war is not limited to climate change and CO2 emissions. It has been estimated that 20% of all environmental degradation and ecocide around the world is due to military and other related activities.
• Global military expenditure now exceeds $200,000,000,000,000 a year (that’s two-hundred trillion US dollars). When the UK government allocates $49 billion (£36b) to the Ministry of Defence but only £1.5 billion to the Department of Energy & Climate Change, it is clear where its priorities lie. Just think what could be done with that cash for renewables and a Just Transition to a carbon-zero economy.
We should be able to say No to War on environmental grounds alone. Perhaps the reticence of activists to join with the XR Peace Movement or other anti-war groups is a tendency towards seeing Climate as a single-issue. Or, conversely, that the mantra that “climate overwhelms all other issues” obscures the fact that all other issues are entwined within the world’s climate.
President Trump has insisted that climate change is a “hoax” and at the same time is demanding increased military expenditure by all NATO allies. His withdrawal of the USA from the international climate agreements and the treaties against the proliferation of nuclear weapons denotes a clear agenda of conflict over sustainability, the accumulation of private wealth and power rather than collective human survival.
Perhaps, at least emotionally, it is easier to focus the practical needs for tree-planting, recycling, investment in renewables and even the comparative abstractions of a Green New Deal than it is to challenge the Military.
But war is no side-issue. In fact, the system of imperialism is at the core of the very processes that are destroying the Planet. Imperialism is the most concentrated manifestation of the competition that is the motor of Capitalism. The battle for resources, both natural and human, results routinely in warfare. But this is not because of Human Nature or any human DNA that condemns us to a fate of self-inflicted extinction.
Huge periods of human history, entire eras encompassing small clans through to huge civilisations have managed in conditions forged by purposefully minimalising conflict and maximising mutually beneficial trade and inter-mingling. There is nothing either biological or God-given about fighting, competing or enslaving – the system that we find ourselves born into tends to determine our behaviours. The current system of Capitalism is only one human system amongst many possibilities.
Of course, the struggle for survival and then for identity can lead us into conflict with others. We should retain the right to self-defence against predatory threats from others if only to prevent the descent into barbarism. But it is only the false construction of nation states and notions of racial hierarchies that combine to create the industrialised warfare we see today.
As an example, NATO is neither defensive nor just. It is an undemocratic alliance of the most powerful private corporate interests aimed at carving-up and accumulating the world’s natural resources and controlling its’ peoples.
This returns us to the fundamental issue. Climate degradation is fast-accelerating the scramble for declining resources. The catastrophes currently overwhelming entire countries in the Global South are just the precursor of social upheavals soon to hit the rest of us. The devastation from war could quite easily overwhelm us well in advance of the catastrophe of ecocide.
We have to challenge the drive to war and force the change from military to civilian expenditure. The money is clearly there to fund a carbon-zero economy by 2025, yet the System won’t allow it. That is the real issue. So today we need to say Not War, No to NATO, because that’s what the powerful are discussing. And everyday we have to enact the practical conclusions from the recognition that we need system change to minimise catastrophic climate change.