WAR CAUSES CLIMATE CHANGE – CLIMATE CHANGE CAUSES WAR: this Movement for the Abolition of War (MAW) banner aroused considerable interest outside COP25 in Madrid in 2019.

We already know that war is a humanitarian catastrophe, but it is an environmental catastrophe too.

Climate change can lead to scarce resources and instability – thus greatly multiplying the threat of war.  But war and its preparations also contribute significantly to climate change.  Scientists for Global Responsibility (SGR) estimates that 6% of global greenhouse gas emissions result from military-related activity.

Yet there was no mention of these emissions at the Madrid conference.  Why? Because at Kyoto in 1997 it was decided, under pressure from the US, that there would be no obligation on countries to count these emissions or include them in reduction targets.

While COP25 was taking place in Madrid, NATO leaders were meeting in London, claiming to “work to increase the security of all”.  Yet nowhere in that statement was there any reference to the climate crisis – surely the biggest threat we face today.

What is security?  In MAW’s Annual Remembrance Lecture 2009 delivered by Dr Mark Levene of Southampton University, he drew attention to the increasing tendency of nation states to treat climate change in state security terms, citing a CIA announcement of a climate change bureau established to prepare for a future threat.  The preparations had little to do with combatting climate change but everything to do with the resulting mass migration. Vast sums were spent on research into perimeter-denial technology and into military strategies to control migrants.

Is this really what we need in order to feel secure?

The UK has been at war, somewhere in the world, every year since WW2.  No other country, including the USA, has this record.  Britain has soldiers deployed in over 80 countries and has bases in 14.  In truth we ARE the threat – in Afghanistan the recent conflict is known as the “British war”.

Yet our former Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson stated in December 2018: “The UK could build new military bases around the world after Brexit – this is our moment to be that true global player once more – looking into new opportunities for the armed forces – our biggest moment as a nation since the second world war”.

Our Ministry of Defence’s advice to policy makers is governed by the principle that even a 1% security risk materialising is unacceptable. Any ‘security threat’ means more ships, tanks, aircraft and weaponry, and creates anxiety amongst the population and public support for military expenditure.

Yet the certainty of impending climate catastrophe is ignored in favour of the possibility of ‘security’ threats. The unfolding climate catastrophe is not a 1% risk, it is 100%. The basic facts of the science have been indisputable for over 40 years. Resources need to be concentrated towards averting the extinction of life on earth,  and those resources could come from existing military budgets.

At present, finance dedicated to mitigating and adapting to climate change averages about one twelfth of military spending. In the USA it amounts to a mere 0.2%, in the UK 3.1%.

Imagine the possible repatriation from military industries of talent, energy and peaceful research to where it is really needed: people engaged in productive positive work, instead of killing others while often harming their own sanity and health.   War can, and often does, destroy both the aggressor and the victim.

In the 1970s the Lucas Aerospace workers’ plan for diversification from military to socially useful production was dismissed out of hand by the management – a lost opportunity. Suggested products, designed to utilise existing skills and equipment, included hybrid cars, wind turbines, kidney machines …  Who knows where those visionary plans might have led had they been allowed?

So, what can we do?

Firstly, demand that military-related emissions are taken into account.

Secondly, stop believing that war is inevitable. We have better, more civilised ways of resolving conflict through the channels already available: the United Nations and other well-established institutions, international laws and treaties, and non-violent methods of conflict avoidance and resolution.  Still needed is the will to use these resources effectively – a change of mind-set – a cultural change.

Thirdly, recognise that international climate finance offers far better value in resolving conflict and sustaining the environment than the equivalent spent on military operations, and demand that transfer of funding.

We must persuade our politicians to explore our vision of real human security.

David Collins – Movement for the Abolition of War; Veterans for Peace UK

Hilary Evans – Movement for the Abolition of War

A longer version was originally published in The Anglican Peacemaker, April 2020.


Image source: https://abolishwar.net/maw-accreditation-to-cop26-in-glasgow/


Disclaimer: This blog is intended to provide a space for people associated with APF to express their own personal views and opinions in order to promote discussion of issues relating to peacemaking and pacifism  It is not necessarily a place where the official views of APF are expressed.

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