The Military and Climate Change/Justice

The world situation is much worse than generally acknowledged. This last December, the coinciding meetings of NATO and of the climate change Congress of Parties (COP25) were barely reported, much less analyzed, even though the delegates held the fate of humanity in their hands. To some degree, their unelected delegates are not accountable to the public. NATO provides anonymity and shields member states from legal and political accountability. NATO does not reveal which member state participated in a military operation. [1] To judge by the results, delegates in both organizations chose to ignore both science and the human situation.

The military is the single largest institutional emitter of greenhouse gases, but its emissions are exempt under the Kyoto Protocol. In its practice of securing property and oil installations and in securitizing borders, the military is also the single largest contributor to climate injustice. The many interconnections between militarization and climate change continue to be overlooked at all COP meetings, by IPCC scientists, by green new deals, and by climate and anti-war movements. It is hard to understand the silence: anthropogenic climate change and global militarization continue to be driven by political decisions within government and financial institutions. The military’s attribution of violence to victims of climate disasters is used to justify permanent war, militarized borders, global surveillance, and strategies of pacification.

Despite the October 2018 warning about the climate emergency, all major greenhouse gases increased this past year, and after 25 years of climate meetings, there are still no mandatory caps on emissions in any sector. There are no enforceable measures to immediately stop anything. The current concentration of CO2 is at least 407.8 ppm and is far above the maximum safe level of 350 ppm which is the estimated turning point to an ice-free world. The carbon budget is an economic fiction that grossly misleads about climate system dynamics as it omits amplifying feedbacks and the paleoclimate record of sudden shifts. The climate budget erroneously assumes a slow, steady, stoppable global warming trajectory.

Profound Earth system changes are already taking place at a time of unprecedented immiseration across the world. There are 70 million refugees crossing borders and an estimated 20 million people/year internally displaced due to climate disasters. The number of walled, securitized borders increased from 15 at the end of the Cold War to the current 77. Newly released figures indicate that US wars since 9/11 have killed 801,000, with the total figure likely to reach 3.1 million or more. And despite the purported goal of the 2010 Cancun COP to fund $100b for loss and damages by 2020 and $100b/year thereafter, only a paltry amount has been collected and COP25 simply postponed dealing with climate debt.

As greenhouse gas concentration and global temperature rise at an ever increasing rate, climate centres predict temperatures far higher than the 1.5C target. 1.5C is hardly “safe”. The global average surface temperature of less than 1C increase has already led to hundreds of thousands of human fatalities each year due to heat waves and extreme weather events (2009 report) Less than 1C increase has caused severe droughts and more intense tropical storms, flooding, forest fires, melting permafrost, changes in the jet stream and Atlantic circulation, ocean acidification, sea level rise, salt water incursion into major agricultural areas like the Nile and Mekong deltas, ocean absorption of heat and CO2 that now affects the amount of oxygen in the ocean.

The military bases its role in climate change on two premises: that the military is the global institution best equipped to respond to climate disasters, and that the climate victims will inevitably respond violently to climate-related crises. There is ample evidence of the exact opposite.

Climate and Military decision-makers gamble with human extinction. Daniel Ellsberg reveals that the Manhattan Project nuclear physicists chose to gamble with the possibility that the Trinity nuclear bomb test could have ignited the Earth’s atmosphere and ocean and extinguish all life. [2] Full-spectrum dominance means “the technological control of land, sea, air, and space, the ‘human terrain’, the electromagnetic spectrum, and the ability to rapidly translate global power projection into decisive force in any circumstance and environment” within minutes or hours.” [3] Despite NATO’s now sanctioning a first strike and NATO rejection of the nuclear ban treaty, the media reports focused on the Trudeau-Macron gossip.

Described below are s range of interactions between militarization, climate change, and climate justice.

For perspective on the magnitude of battle emissions, on the first night of Shock and Awe in 2003, “1,700 aircraft – bombers, fighters, and other warships – flew roughly 1,400 strike sorties on critical targets, and fired 504 cruise missiles, directly into the heart of Baghdad.” [4] The B-52H Bomber holds 47,975 gallons of fuel and still requires mid-air refueling. The F-15 uses 25 gallons/minute or 1580 gallons/hour. The B-52 Stratocruiser with 8 jet engines uses roughly 3334 gallons/hour. Added to this are the refueling tankers accompanying fighter jets, loaded with between 150,000 lbs and 210,000 lbs of transfer fuel.

Requiring immense energy input are military data centres for surveillance, cyberwarfare, border control and securitization.

There are now 77 militarized/electronically securitized borders in the world, built to keep out terrorists and economic and climate refugees. Relying on Israel’s border strategies and technology, borders are armed with drones, satellites, surveillance cameras, radar and electronic warfare. In 2014 the UN Security Council passed Resolution 2178 calling on member states to put border security systems in place for counterterrorism purposes. At present, climate refugees are not protected under international law. [5]

US wars are historically total, scorched earth: defoliants and chemical weapons destroyed much of the forest and soil carbon sinks in North Korea, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, and in the Middle East. An estimated 85% of the ammunitions used by the US Army targets environments sheltering people.

Reconstruction of war-torn areas requires the most energy-intensive production of steel and cement, with contracts handed out to politically-connected Halliburton(Dick Cheney) and Bechtel (George Schultz) corporations.

China, often represented as an alternative ecological model, omits the vast fossil-fuel corridor stretching through Asia, Europe, and North Africa; a recent Guardian article cites a Pentagon report on a chain of Chinese military bases to be included in the project as well as a military presence in the Arctic ocean.

All branches of the military use climate as a “threat multiplier”. A newspaper report from February 2004 caught international attention: “Now the Pentagon tells Bush: climate change will destroy us” (p59ff). Based on what became known as The Pentagon Report by Peter Schwartz and Doug Randall of the Global Business Network, much has been written about its timing and message. The Pentagon paid $100,000 for the Report which was commissioned by Andrew Marshall who had worked in the National Security Council, for the Rand Corporation, and in the Office of Net Assessment to form US military and political strategies. One interpretation is that The Report was proposing that the Department of Defense should be planning ‘no-regret (military) strategies’ for worst-case global warming-induced eventualities[6].

The military role focuses on climate-caused civil disorder and disaster relief. The Pentagon Report authors write that in the future, deaths from war, famine and weather-related disasters will run into the millions. “Every time there is a choice between starving and raiding, humans raid.” [7]. In a presentation by former NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, fifteen of the seventeen non-military issues that NATO is prepared to address are climate-related. The U.S. Navy also claims to have strategic interests in the Arctic as warming opens up competition for sea lanes and resource extraction. In 2009, the U.S. Department of the Navy released a 36-page document called Navy Arctic Roadmap. “The United States has broad and fundamental national security interests in the Arctic region and is prepared to operate either independently or in conjunction with other states to safeguard these interests. ….What the practical implementation of this policy means is the expanded penetration of the Arctic Circle by the U.S. Navy’s submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) third of the American nuclear triad…” In a memo made public on January 19th, 2016, the Pentagon affirmed that “climate change will be a constant consideration in how the Department of Defense goes about its war mission, acquisition programs, readiness plans, construction projects and security judgements….[including] a larger presence in the Arctic, where more land and sea are exposed as the polar ice caps melt.”

In Canada, former Premier Stephen Harper withdrew government funding of the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences, including Canada’s northernmost research station Polar Environment Atmospheric Research Laboratory (PEARL) in Nunavut. The informal network of university researchers was not able to secure the $1.5 million annual funding required to continue running the station all year round. The federal government instead funds the construction of six to eight new Arctic patrol ships, costing about $3.1b, to help reassert Canada’s sovereignty over the North.

Betsy Hartmann, a professor of Development Studies, calls the representation of violent climate victims the “Degradation Narrative”. “This way of looking at climate conflict first hit the big time in 2007, when in a remarkable chorus, the Atlantic Monthly, the United Nations Environment Program, the UN Security Council, and even UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon announced that the violence in Darfur was due to a combination of demographic pressures, resource scarcities and climate change.” Water conflicts in themselves do not cause violence: 450 water agreements on international waters, and 145 water-related treaties, were signed between 1820 and 2007. “In real cases, researchers find, pastoralists engage in less conflict, not more, in times of droughts and environmental stress, strengthening common property regimes that govern water use.” [8]

Instead of protecting and conserving water for basic human survival needs in this climate-changed world, there continues to be system-wide water giveaways to Nestle, Coca Cola, the mining sector, tar sands and fracking, World Bank funding of large hydro dams, water diversions to water- and soil-depleting cash crops, and targeted military destruction of water infrastructure (Gaza, Baghdad).

Military spending and fossil fuel subsidies, vs miniscule funds for the climate and loss and damage, represent a pure culture of death.

These are strange times. Artificial intelligence, rocket science, data and informatics replace knowledge and wisdom in decision-making. Daily life continues within this shadowy world of ominous threat: “you know something’s happening but you don’t know what it is”(Bob Dylan).

Urgent transformation along many fronts, undertaken with cooperation, knowledge, and respect for the human world, is needed more than ever to dismantle the deadly systems and to protect life’s necessities.

[1] Glennon, Michael J. (2015). National Security and Double Government. Oxford. P. 100-101.

[2] Ellsberg, Daniel. (2017). The Doomsday Machine. Bloomsbury. P.278-283

[3] Halper, Jeff. (2015). War Against the People: Israel, the Palestinians and Global Pacification. Pluto. 73-75.

[4] Sanders, Barry. (2009). The Green Zone: The Environmental Costs of Militarism. AK Press. P.40-59.

[5] Miller, Todd. (2019). Empire of Borders: How the US is Exporting its Borders Around the World. Verso.

[6] Wright, Steve. “Preparing for Mass Refugee Flows: The Corporate Military Sector”. In Cromwell, David and Levene, Marc, eds. (2007). Surviving Climate Change: The Struggle to Avert Global Catastrophe. Pluto Press.

[7] Buxton, Nick and Hayes, Ben. (2016). The Secure and the Dispossessed: How the Military and Corporations are Shaping a Climate-Changed World. Pluto

[8] Betsy Hartmann.“Challenging the Militarization of Climate Change,” Plenary on Militarization and Security, Peace and Justice Studies Annual Conference, Anticipating Climate Disruption, Tufts University, October 6, 2012.

Judith Deutsch is a psychoanalyst in Toronto. She is former president of Science for Peace. She can be reached at