Oil is indispensable for war and militarism. Think of it as the lifeblood coursing through our foreign policy veins — a policy based on maintaining superpower status through force. The 1980 Carter Doctrine, which stated that the United States would use military force if necessary to defend its national interests in the Persian Gulf, formalized the toxic nexus between access to oil and war.
Since the late 1970s, the United States has spent $8 trillion protecting oil cargoes in the Persian Gulf region through ongoing naval patrols. Since the late 1970s, global warming has accelerated so rapidly that climate experts forecast at least an 8-foot sea level rise by the end of this century.
War for oil has come home. Militarized North Dakota police attacked nonviolent water protectors protesting the Dakota Access oil pipeline with rubber bullets, tear gas, concussion grenades, and water cannons in sub-freezing temperatures. One medic treating injuries described it as a “low-grade war.”
A thumbnail sketch of recent U.S. spending confirms the axiom that war culture is a defining feature of U.S. politics. In 2016, as in previous years, an estimated $1 trillion was allocated to military defense, militarized national security, veterans, and debt from recent wars. In that same year, a few billion dollars were allocated to research and development for energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies.
And now the Trump administration is zeroing out funding for renewable energy and climate change research and has eliminated all information on climate change from the EPA website. He proposes shrinking the EPA’s budget by more than 31 percent while adding a $54 billion (10 percent) increase to the military budget for 2018.
What’s clear from U.S. spending priorities is that access to oil and military dominance govern U.S. policy in the world. The immense policy and spending inequality between military and renewable energy accelerates the perilously trending climate change.
Militarism is the most oil-intensive activity on the planet, growing more so with faster, bigger, more-fuel-guzzling planes, tanks, and naval vessels. At the outset of the Iraq War in March 2003, the Army estimated it would need more than 40 million gallons of gasoline for three weeks of combat, exceeding the total quantity used by all Allied forces in the four years of World War I.
The estimated full costs of the Iraq War, over $3 trillion, could have covered all global investments in renewable energy needed between now and 2030 to reverse global warming trends.
Climate change is inevitably an issue of peace because the Pentagon is the single-largest contributor of climate change emissions in the world. And as the Pentagon goes, so go the military budgets of other major powers. “We are not your enemy,” a Chinese strategist told journalist John Pilger, ” but if you (in the West) decide we are, we must prepare without delay.”
Climate change is necessarily an issue of peace given the potential conflicts over the remaining oil as we near peak oil and given diminishing potable water supply and arable land. The worst Syrian drought on record, from 2006 to 2011, caused agriculture to collapse and food prices to rise, thus aggravating poverty, and it drove more 1.5 million farm workers and families to cities for survival. The extreme and rapid swelling in urban population from war and climate change-related water scarcity, combined with the lack of support from the Assad government for basic needs and services, added fuel to the fire of civil conflict and the current war in Syria.
The U.S. habit and competence for war, with its origins in the past annihilation of Native Americans, may be our society’s nemesis unless we do critical soul-searching about our cultural and personal values and actively engage in transforming them. Let us remember and honor the plentitude of activist, non-violent movements in our society that have profoundly challenged the Superpower role of our society. These are the feminist violence against women and equal rights for women movement; the civil rights, immigrant and indigenous rights movements; the anti-war and peace movements; Black Lives Matter and Standing Rock water protectors; progressive media, peace and justice studies; progressive labor and health workers; the coop, sustainable agriculture, and Transition Town movements; and the pervasive climate change activism and victories against fracking and oil pipelines.
The challenge is how to build voice, social cohesion and public influence for our shared values of a sense of human community, our core connection with nature, and our thirst for equality and justice for all.
Working together, we must seek enduring peace on earth and enduring peace with earth.
A Climate Justice, Peace and Jobs march will take place in Springfield on Saturday, April 29, at 3 p.m. beginning at the Federal courthouse on State Street. Watch for details about the Greenfield climate justice event on April 29. Both are sister marches in solidarity with the national People’s Climate March in Washington D.C., all on the 100th day of the Trump Administration.
Pat Hynes, a retired Professor of Environmental Health, directs the Traprock Center for Peace and Justice.