By all accounts there is no time to lose. Last May, the UN report on the earth’s biodiversity and ecosystems described the dramatic losses of species, ecosystems, and genetic diversity. This month’s special report on the ocean from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change will likely express equally ominous language. Scientists who fear we will exceed the 1.5 degrees Celsius increase in atmospheric temperature from pre-industrial levels cite evidence that we have reached a tipping point in global warming trends.
The response is obvious: Humanity must enact transformative changes so as to restore and protect nature.
The peace movement has long understood that only bold, transformative changes to our economic and societal institutions will allow us to realize a just and peaceful world.In fact, militarism and war have a direct impact the climate emergency. As the largest institutional consumer of fossil fuels worldwide, the Pentagon drives the climate crisis by emitting greenhouse gases on a scale comparable to some industrialized countries. Through war and occupation, it causes death and destruction, poisons the environment, and creates refugee crises by displacing entire populations.
Obscene amounts of money are spent on militarism and war. In 2018, Pentagon spending represented $639 billion out of $1.8 trillion in worldwide military spending. Consequently, societies are deprived of funding for human needs and become enfeebled, exacerbating ever-widening wealth inequality. With the global war now in its 19th year and involving some 80 countries around the world, the US has become in effect a perpetual war state that sees threats in every corner. By definition, the situation prohibits the kind of international cooperation and coordination absolutely necessary to mount a global response to the climate emergency.
Peace activists have long pursued campaigns to redirect the military budget towards human needs both as a first step towards achieving the structural change we need. Furthermore, these campaigns that support strengthening the social safety net appeal to diverse constituencies beyond the peace movement and harbor the potential for sparking mass mobilizations. When the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq caused a ballooning of the military budget, peace activists around the country renewed the work to rein in Pentagon spending.
Here in Massachusetts, a referendum for a progressive federal budget calling for cuts to military spending was held in 2012. Everywhere the referendum ran, even in Republican strongholds, a remarkable 75% of voters supported the prospect of a federal budget that would invest in jobs and the social safety net while taxing the ultra wealthy and corporations and cutting military spending.
Presently, admirable work to reorient federal budget priorities continues in the “People’s Budget” proposals out of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, the call for a moral budget promoted by the faith-based Poor People’s Campaign and the Global Days of Action on Military Spending annually coordinated by the International Peace Bureau.
The urgency of the climate crisis has been thrust into the public sphere by youth-led movements like the Sunrise Movement using effective actions that have disrupted politics as usual, stoked the collective imagination, and responded with the bold policy agenda of the Green New Deal. The GND includes job security, community resiliency, and clean air and water alongside net-zero greenhouse gas emissions and a sustainable environment. More recently, an even more ambitious and elaborate 62-page proposal was put forward by presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.
Furthermore, it answers to the constant refrain of critics who ask how we will pay for such a bold program: Along with criticizing the $1.5 trillion annual expenditures worldwide on weapons of destruction, Bernie Sanders’ version of the Green New Deal tantalizingly calls for “leading the planet in a wholesale shift away from militarism.”
As the Global Climate Strike captivates everyone’s attention, there is also work to do in between the protests, walkouts, and direct actions. For example, the Commonwealth Peace and Justice Agenda is a set of nine pro-peace bills developed by a network of peace and justice groups across our state. The bills were crafted together with allied legislators and submitted to the Massachusetts state legislature. Among the bills submitted are bills that call for commissions to evaluate the budget tradeoffs between certain state programs and specific cuts to Pentagon spending. Another directs the state treasurer to provide an annual report on federal and state budget information that would empower taxpayers. Analogous climate legislation in the statehouse could easily be crafted for state or federal bills funding all or part of the Green New Deal. This agenda provides another mechanism by which to educate, advocate, lobby, and otherwise promote bold legislation that can then serve as a model for federal spending bills.
There is no time to lose laying the important groundwork to show we can fund the ambitious goals of the Green New Deal by redirecting funds from the military and war.
Maryellen Kurkulos serves on the board of Massachusetts Peace Action and lives in Fall River.
This article is part of the Special Climate Crisis Issue of DigBoston (9/19/2019, Vol. 21, Iss. 38) produced in cooperation with the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism as part of the global Covering Climate Now initiative organized by The Nation and Columbia Journalism Review.