Last week the U.S. congress approved a measure to the Defense Authorization Act that calls climate change a “direct threat to the national security” of the U.S. and orders up a Pentagon study. History shows that when the United States incorporates any issue into its defense strategy the usual response is to put unlimited resources towards waging failing wars instead of dealing with the root causes of the issue. We don’t have to look too far to see the negative results of a militarized response to any issue. From the failed war on drugs to the increased criminalization of the poor, these types of strategies tend to implement violent responses to issues that require social and economic solutions. Climate change is no different. Preparing for and waging war won’t help us deal with with its impacts.
The defense bill’s measure on climate change instructs the military service branches to identify their 10 military installations that are most likely to be impacted by climate change over the next two decades. Military commanders have also been instructed to factor climate change into their strategic battle plans. While this measure may seem at odds with Trump’s climate denying stance, it is completely compatible with his promise to make the “U.S military the biggest and strongest”. At a time when the risk of inaction on climate change is growing, fed by influential climate skeptics in the Trump administration, it is critical that the climate justice movement reject a militarized and violent response to climate change.
Certainly, there is power in the Department of Defense’s acknowledgement of climate change as a reality we must contend with. But their understanding is tied to utilizing the issue as a way to militarize and weaponize the response to increasing climate disasters, migration and control of natural resources. If we as a justice movement are giving their assertion credibility because we think it might sway this administration’s climate denying ways we should understand that we we will be giving credence to an agency that is seen around the world as a purveyor of war, displacement, violence and death. The resistance to Trump requires all of us, in this and other movements, to think more broadly and carefully about how these issues intersect and how they affect us here and abroad.
The climate measure in the defense bill is not the only sign that this administration is intent on fueling the fires of war. Trump’s proposed budget shifts the focus from human needs and development to the military and places militarism as the top priority, pitting it against every other priority Americans care about, including climate change. The administration’s current budget drains resources for some of our most potent tools to mitigate the impacts of climate change. It includes cuts of up to 30% for foreign aid, diplomacy, the environmental protection agency, the labor department and the department of education while it shifts $54 billion to the Pentagon and military. If military spending alone could defeat climate change or solve any other social or economic issue, then a U.S. military budget that is the largest in the world ($700 billion in total) should have already solved these problems.
Climate change and climate disasters have and will continue to exacerbate existing inequalities within countries, including in the United States, and between countries. Addressing inequalities requires that we steer clear of military solutions. For example, walls will not prevent millions of climate refugees from fleeing disasters, just as the Mediterranean sea has not stopped thousands from searching for safety. We, as a movement, need to continue to advocate for national and international mechanisms that mitigate the impacts of climate change and climate disasters, including those that would enable the mass movement of people to take place peacefully. Mitigating the impacts of climate change requires cooperation and moving forward with solutions to keep fossil fuels in the ground, shift our economy to one that relies on renewable energy, and provide highly skilled jobs to those most impacted and least protected from climate change.