Has the US Given Up on Dramatic Climate Change Action?

Mills, Wesport, Oregon. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

It turns out $3.5 trillion over 10 years was too much for congressional Democrats to agree to spend on America’s future. Too pricey to stop catastrophic climate change. Too much to cut childhood poverty in half. Too much to help working class families struggling to raise their children.

It is not too much to spend on our military, however. The US will spend more than twice that on the military over the next decade.

When it comes to government spending, no amount of money is too much to prop up the American Empire.

Spreading democracy abroad isn’t cheap. Never mind that our own democracy is hanging by a thread due, in large part, to increasing inequality and the ongoing assault on voting rights.

For the $7 trillion in military spending, the US will be able to boast that it has the largest, most advanced military on Earth (though it still cannot defeat rag tag armies like the Taliban), even as childhood poverty rates skyrocket, our quality of life tanks, and inequality grows by the day creating more and more anger and disenchantment with the federal government.

In a recent town hall meeting, Joe Biden reached deep into his reserve of toxic masculinity and reiterated his intention that the US continue to boast the most awesome, powerful military in world history:

“China, Russia, and the rest of the world knows we have the most powerful military in the history of the world,” Biden said. “Don’t worry about whether we’re going to — they’re going to be more powerful. What you do have to worry about is whether or not they’re going to engage in activities that will put them in a position where they may make a serious mistake.”

Meanwhile in nations with high quality of life rankings, governments have the exact opposite priorities. Military spending is modest and the bulk of the spending goes to things to improve the quality of life for all, like health care, generous family leave, first class public education, and a strong social safety net.

Thus Nordic countries have the highest quality of life on Earth, while the United State’s quality of life continues to fall. For years Finland, Norway, and Denmark have been ranked the world’s three happiest countries, according to the World Happiness Report. America has been ranked between 14th and 19th.

The Better Life index compiled by The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development currently ranks the US behind all Nordic countries, as well as Canada and Australia.

It is no mystery why the US trails these progressive nations in these indices. For years, the U.S. defense budget has averaged about $650 billion. At the same time, the defense budgets of Denmark and Finland have been less than $5 billion. Despite the fact that the Nordic nations sit right on the doorstep of the West’s arch nemesis Russia.

Since the US is refusing to adequately fund dramatic climate change action—thanks largely to coal baron Joe Manchin—it will ironically need the world’s most powerful military more than ever, as scientists warn climate change will usher in unprecedented chaos to the world’s economy. Natural disasters will visit the planet on a scale never seen before, and refugee populations in the most hardest hit nations—in particular those near the Equator—will flee their uninhabitable homelands and flood into North America and Europe. There will be more and more conflicts, especially over shrinking natural resources.

Instead of the Democratic-contolled US government funding dramatic climate change action to stave off such a catastrophic scenario, the US has produced more coal this year than it did last year.

Meanwhile those who point out the existential crisis posed by our current climate trajectory, as well as our government’s unwillingness to take dramatic climate action are summarily dismissed as fatalists.

It may be that our government leaders know something we don’t know. Perhaps they see the hopelessness of the situation and thus the importance of a strong military when everything goes to hell in a few decades. Perhaps they are just being realistic, knowing that real, effective climate change action is impossible in our political climate, or, as the fatalists claim, already too late. Perhaps they are thinking, what is the point of halving childhood poverty when climate change is going to increase poverty beyond measure?

Maybe investing in tanks makes more sense than investing in solar panels and wind farms. Maybe our political leaders are just being prudent. That would certainly explain the suicidal trajectory we are on.