Will militarism block the climate change movement?

Margie Pestorius

Militarism and climate change are closely linked and joining anti-militarism to the climate justice discourse is an important move that was visible during the UN COP21 climate conference last December. It is becoming evident that militarism will block the goals of the climate change movement if these links are not addressed.

Militarism is defined as: "The belief or desire of a government or people that a country should maintain a strong military capability and be prepared to use it aggressively to defend or promote national interests."

A recent inquiry of climate justice activists and academics in Melbourne threw up the following connections.

Militarism's contribution to fossil fuel use:

1. Military institutions use an enormous amount of fossil fuels for jets and tanks, to move personnel and equipment around, to create weapons that are then destroyed and rebuilt in ever new and updated versions, in destroying good urban infrastructure and then rebuilding. The US military alone run 800 military bases around the world and it has been claimed that the US military is the biggest single institutional user of oil.

2. The military totally depend on their use of fossil fuels and this isn't going to change quickly. As an institution they will firmly hold to the easy access they have, because they are structured around that. Presently they can't carry too many bombs in a solar powered jet.

3. The military are funded vastly beyond other institutions for innovative research and development and drive technological innovation. New technologies from the military sector are likely to be based around and biased toward technologies that use fossil fuels the military has access to.

4. The military suck up a lot funds that might otherwise be used for climate adaption, transition and reversal.

Militarism's connection to corporate-state growth economies:

War and military violence is used by nation-states to underpin the ever-increasing resource extraction which is the base activity of their colonising systems.

Growth is tied to the definition of militarism: military force is used "to defend or promote national interests". Unimpeded growth and "national interests" in this context have very close meaning. Expectation of growth is driven by greed: more wealth for those at the top.

Corporations and governments both have a growth agenda. And it is the ever increasing rate of growth which drives climate change. If we grew slowly and carefully and offset carbon emissions, well, we might have slowed a warming planet.

Many corporations are structured around a military section of their business. With a 'diverse' business structure that includes at least one wing of products and services used by the military, corporations can source lucrative beefed-up (#beefedup) government contracts. This leaves corporations and government with a vested interest to cheer on a growing militarism and a growing military budget.

Some corporations thrive on selling the competencies of the military to nation-states: surveillance, wall infrastructure, militarised policing and detention, and violent deterrence and enforcement. These become a predominating skill base for repressing and controlling activists attempting to create change.

The effects of all-too-quick climate change is predicted to be a factor in driving modern conflicts between communities. This may involve increasing military interventions and military conflicts between communities or States.

In a recent article in Waging Nonviolence (www.wagingnonviolence.org), the author Lakey summarises the stages of a "living revolution" as follows:

  • do cultural preparation (including analysis and vision),
  • build organisation,
  • confront the oppressor with propaganda of the deed,
  • escalate to mass non-cooperation, and
  • fill the resulting power vacuum with the parallel institutions planted in stage two by organising cooperative alternatives that meet people's needs.

It could be argued that the activities of Break Free 350.org climate change activists have recently bedded the movement into Stage 4: mass non-cooperation activities. But Lakey admits that the reality of movement building involves a cycling back and forth between stages, strengthening layers with each renewed effort. I suggest, as the climate movement grows powerful, it may be necessary to return to earlier stages to add the messaging (consciousness raising and action) related to militarism before we are able to move truly to the 'living revolution'.

In conclusion, climate change is a consequence of military-backed growth and resource extraction and climate change is predicted to fuel armed conflicts. Militarism will be a structural barrier to change and the military and militarised policing will be used to repress change makers. Militarism should be addressed if the climate movement is to achieve its goals.

If people are interested in exploring these connections please contact Margie Pestorius (pestoriusm@gmail.com). We are proposing to set up a campaign that will address these links between climate change and militarism through focussing on the corporations that profit. Join us!

Published in Chain Reaction, national magazine of Friends of the Earth Australia, August 2016