Episode 122: Climate Chaos (Part II) — The Militarization of Liberals’ Climate Change Response

Citations Needed | October 28, 2020 | Transcript

Citations Needed
48 min readOct 28, 2020
Solar panels are tested during a 2015 NATO exercise in Hungary. (Photo Credit: NATO)


Intro: This is Citations Needed with Nima Shirazi and Adam Johnson.

Nima Shirazi: Welcome to Citations Needed a podcast on the media, power, PR and the history of bullshit. I am Nima Shirazi.

Adam: I’m Adam Johnson.

Nima: Thank you everyone for listening this week, of course you can follow the show on Twitter @CitationsPod, Facebook Citations Needed, become a supporter of our work through Patreon.com/CitationsNeededPodcast with Nima Shirazi and Adam Johnson. All your help through Patreon is so appreciated, we are 100 percent listener funded, that means no billionaire backers, no commercials or ads and that is all thanks to you.

Adam: And if you join our Patreon, you will have access to our 70-plus Patreon-only News Briefs where we recap current events, hot takes and do the occasional film criticism. That is for our patrons, that helps sustain the show and keeps the episodes themselves free, which they always will be.

Nima: Pete Buttigieg wants to create a “Senior Cli­mate Secu­ri­ty role in the Sec­re­tary of Defense’s office respon­si­ble for man­ag­ing cli­mate secu­ri­ty risks.” Elizabeth Warren insists, “our military can help lead the fight in combating climate change.” And the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis tells us our primary goal should be to, “Confront Climate Risks to America’s National Security and Restore America’s Leadership on the International Stage.” Everywhere we turn in liberal discourse, high profile Democrats and center-left media are framing climate change as a national security risk requiring national security solutions.

Adam: Politically, it’s a clever enough frame. Like mocking Trump for being too nice to North Korea, or latching on to anti-Trump gold star families it’s a cheap and easy way Democrats can drape themselves in the flag while pushing an ostensibly liberal position: We know it’s a real threat because our military takes it seriously and they can be part of the solution unlike those backwards Republicans we actually care what the generals are saying.

Nima: The primary problem with this is that the military speaks of climate change the way Davos talks about “inequality” — in scare-quotes, as a threat to be managed and mitigated, not solved, and certainly not seen as a moral imperative to be addressed with issues of social justice and racism in mind. The Pentagon, by its own admission, views climate chaos as a risk factor among many, and its primary goal is to protect American capital and the US-led global expansionist and extractivist economic order: two institutions fundamentally in need of overhaul if climate change is going to be reversed. Indeed turning to the U.S. military to help solve the climate crisis is like asking the police to solve institutional racism — at best they can gun down protestors and secure property in the event of mass unrest, but the thing that needs overthrowing is the thing they’re charged most with protecting.

Adam: On this week’s episode we’ll explain why the DoD, and the military industrial complex more broadly, cannot be a partner in the battle against climate change because their prime objective is protecting its main drivers of mindless growth and war, why demilitarization and global cooperation are key to curbing emissions in time, and why creeping militarism, nationalist economic policy in Green quote-unquote “tech” and other forms of liberal jingoism are subtly shifting mainstream liberal climate policy to the right.

Nima: Later on the show, we will be joined by Lorah Steichen, Outreach Coordinator for the National Priorities Project at the Institute for Policy Studies, which is dedicated to fighting for a U.S. Federal budget that prioritizes peace, economic security, and shared prosperity.

[Begin Clip]

Lorah Steichen: In assessing climate change in national security terms, it’s something that’s been going on for a long time, it hasn’t brought us closer to the actions that we need to significantly curtail emissions or mitigate the crisis. That strategy has really not been successful, it hasn’t kept fossil fuels in the ground or transformed our economy. In reality, rather than advocating to, you know, address the root causes of the crisis, military and security strategists are quick to highlight the opportunities for militarized responses to the impacts of climate change.

[End Clip]

Nima: This is the second episode in our two-part series on climate chaos. Last week, we discussed how Democratic Party rhetoric about our existential climate emergency doesn’t line-up with the lack of urgency they demonstrate when crafting, endorsing or pushing real policy solutions — a misalignment that ultimately adds up to implicit climate denialism. On this episode, we’re looking at how the media laps up any mention of climate change as a national security threat, one of course that demands militarized solutions.

Adam: The idea that the Pentagon is taking global warming or climate change seriously as a pro-climate change hook for media and for liberal politicians has been around for about 15–20 years. A 2004 Pentagon report about the worst case scenarios of climate change generated a lot of headlines in US corporate media, you had Fortune magazine from February 9, 2004, “Climate Collapse: The Pentagon’s Weather Nightmare.” You had the Guardian Observer February 22, 2004, with the headline that read, “Now the Pentagon Tells Bush: Climate Change Will Destroy Us.”

Nima: You also had the San Francisco Chronicle February 25, 2004, “Pentagon-Sponsored Climate Report Sparks Hullabaloo in Europe,” and The New York Times followed suit on February 29 of the same year with this headline, “The Sky is Falling! Say Hollywood and, Yes, the Pentagon.” So yeah, like variations of these headlines I think have lived with us ever since. Every couple years, the Pentagon warns of the downsides of climate change from a national security perspective and liberals looking to kind of gotcha climate denying Republicans, but from the right, jump on the report to insist that this finally is the evidence needed to prove that the problem is real, right? Finally believe that climate change is a huge, huge emergency because — look, who says it? The Pentagon. It’s as if the lack of evidence previously was the motivation for Republican climate denial to begin with and all they needed was to be told the right thing by the right people that they trust, ie generals, and then finally, they would kind of like snap to as if that was ever the issue to begin with.

Adam: We want to start by showing a somewhat recent example that we found to be pretty sinister. So there was an interview with author and academic Michael Klare, who sort of operates in a vaguely left space, he writes for The Nation, and he wrote a book called All Hell Breaking Loose: The Pentagon’s Perspective on Climate Change. He was interviewed in Vox this past February, with their resident Pentagon stenographer, Alex Ward, the whole book is about how the Pentagon is taking climate change seriously and it’s really kind of an object lesson in how liberal climate change discourse can basically serve as a Pentagon commercial, because again, it’s just another growth sector for the Pentagon, for more shiny objects. In the Vox article headlined, “All hell breaking loose: How the Pentagon is planning for climate change,” the subhead read, “It’s good that the US military is thinking about climate change — but it’s nowhere near enough.” And then in the description of the book in Alex Ward’s article, he wrote, quote, “A new book, aptly titled All Hell Breaking Loose: The Pentagon’s Perspective on Climate Change, reveals the Pentagon is far more worried about the potential impacts of climate change than most probably realize. The good news is that it’s doing a lot to develop ways of coping with that uncertain future. The bad news is that it still may not be enough.” So you’ll notice how all that kind of ideological work is done in this paragraph by sort of just asserting a few premises, right? First, Klare’s book, which has some useful information, but it’s very credulous and deeply uncritical of US Empire or any of its foundational assumptions, doesn’t frame the alleged green initiatives in the military as a kind of cynical marketing ploy to appeal to congressional liberals who sort of give their budget to them, or a way of kind of winning over Democratic politicians or pro-Democratic press. It’s unironically viewed as this earnest effort on the part of the Pentagon to sort of green itself without any indication as to why they would care about that, since that’s not what their job is. Michael Klare repeatedly sort of asserts that it’s this genuine thing that they’re concerned with, which could be true, could not be true, but there’s no effort made either in the interview or the book itself, to explain why the Pentagon suddenly has these noble intentions and so he talks to Vox’s resident Pentagon stenographer, Alex Ward, whose previous job was — you’ll be surprised to learn — working at NATO and weapons contractor funded Atlantic Council, kind of a NATO parallel PR organization where his job is basically just conventional wisdom of the national security state. He then uncritically asked Klare quote, “Is the military changing where it operates because of climate change, or is it buying new types of equipment?” To which Klare assures Ward that the Pentagon is indeed asking for and receiving funds for billions to fund new shiny objects. And so largely the idea of greening the Pentagon is not about reducing emissions, something that could be done far more efficiently by cutting the military budget in half —

Nima: Yeah.

Adam: — or dismantling the military footprint of 800 military bases and refocusing those resources on helping the poor in the Global South and the poor stateside, it’s about contriving another excuse to spend more money on shiny weapons because to green the military you — guess what? — have to give the military more fucking money.

Nima: Well, right. It’s like here, now develop new technology to offset the emissions that you’re already producing. It’s not about scaling back, it’s never about scaling back because no matter what the problem is in the US media, the answer mysteriously is always —

(Credit: Institute for Policy Studies)

Adam: ‘Give the money to the fucking Pentagon.’ You see this a lot with, again, we keep drawing the parallel between abolitionist police movements and reformist police movements, where no matter what the solution is, police shootings of black people, racism, harassment, police regimes, somehow these liberal reforms are always to give the police more money, right? You need more money to train them, right? You need more money so they can take bias assessments, you know, they need more money so they can go to Israel and learn how to fight people in Gaza. Like no matter what the problem is, it’s more money. And so abolitionists finally caught on to this after, you know, decades of his being the thing and they said, ‘Wait, I’m not giving the fucking police one more red cent, because we need to fundamentally rethink the institution.’ So the idea that the Pentagon would reduce its emissions output by cutting the Pentagon, by radically reducing its footprint, and redirecting those resources into things that don’t emit carbon because the Pentagon is a massive, it’s top three depending on how you define it, single entity that emits carbon — that is just not entertained in this article, or in Michael Klare’s book or anything in Vox. They simply take it for granted that the US empire cannot change or ought not change and then you work backwards from there to say, ‘Okay, well how can we make it more woke?’

Nima: This kind of sleight of hand I think is really popular in much of Democratic and liberal discourse. So throughout the 2020 election cycle, you know, that’s from the Democratic primaries all the way through now to the general election, numerous Democratic candidates emphasized repeatedly the importance of using the US military to fight climate change. So as Sarah Lazare, writer and editor at In These Times, who mightily helped us put this episode together, as she points out in an article from February 12 of this year, 2020, entitled, “Buttigieg and Centrist Dems Want a Military Response to Climate Change. That’s Dangerous.” She writes that in September 2019, during the Democratic primary process, Pete Buttigieg said that he would use the US military to fight climate change by creating — what else? I mentioned it earlier — quote, “a senior climate security role in the Secretary of Defense’s office responsible for managing climate security risks” end quote. So this would require boosting the Pentagon budget so that military leaders can quote, “build resilience for military bases and installations.” So of course, the funding only ever goes in one direction — up — towards more money funneled into the military budget.

Adam: And it’s not just funding, it’s also taking the urgent moral and civilian problem of climate change and putting it under the umbrella of the military and somewhat infamously, in May of 2019, Elizabeth Warren published a policy plan titled, “Our Military Can Help Lead the Fight in Combating Climate Change.” She argued in that climate change is quote, “what the Pentagon calls a ‘threat multiplier,’ exacerbating the dangers posed by everything from infectious diseases to terrorism.” She then calls for the Pentagon to, quote, “achieve net zero carbon emissions for all its non-combat bases and infrastructure by 2030.” Of course the most efficient and moral way to achieve this would be to close them.

Nima: Yeah.

Adam: Again, not an option. Such a move, she says, would require a, quote, “dedicated source of funding,” meaning more money for the military. She also says that quote, “I’ll invest billions of dollars into a new, ten-year research and development program at the Defense Department focused on microgrids and advanced energy storage.” This, again, is refocusing climate change as a fundamentally military problem and Joe Biden said that climate change, quote, “puts our national security at risk by leading to regional instability that will require U.S military-supported relief activities and could make areas more vulnerable to terrorist activities.” He calls for investment in “climate resilience of our military bases and critical security infrastructure across the U.S. and around the world.” Biden promised to “elevate climate change as a national security priority.”

Now, and this is important because, again, people listen to this say, ‘Okay, well, we’re gonna have a military, it may as well be green, right? There’s fundamental problems with this, which is if the goal is to, and we talked about this with Jason Hickel and the GDP, if the goal is to reduce carbon emissions, which is what is needed right now to potentially curb climate change if that’s even possible, if the goal is to do that, then you should be talking about radical ways of doing so, not coming up with what is effectively military slush funds for more money, for more tech, that will not do much when there’s a more elegant solution, which is just reducing military footprint, which is bigger than the next ten countries combined. There’s never any sense that these fundamental, much like GDP discourse, this idea that we can sort of green tech our way out of these problems while maintaining the same expansionist and extractivist capitalist order is just not morally sensible. And again, people like Elizabeth Warren, who surrounded herself with people like David Banks and Richard Nephew, and these kind of blobs, CSIS, seen as types who work for these, you know, private consulting firms and weapons contractor-funded think tanks, they’re not going to come in and say, well, we could just cut the military bases. That’s not what they’re paid to do. They’re paid to come on with these sort of cutesy, clever, overshopped, faux liberal solutions that don’t ask basic questions about the necessity of the US military state and the problem is that this begins to consume all the oxygen in the climate debate. And then you have the other problem, which is something that we’ll get into later, which is that the fundamental purpose, the primary goal of the US empire is not to defend the United States, that is at best 10 percent of what they do, 15 percent of what they do, from you know, ISIS invading Myrtle Beach or whatever sort of national security threat, it’s to create the conditions for the expansion of US led global capital and to protect quote-unquote “American interests” overseas, e.g. American multinational corporations. So the thing that’s killing us in terms of climate change, which is unfettered capitalist expansion, is the thing the military is charged most with protecting.

Nima: Well, and that’s why, you know, you get this kind of conflation of an existential threat to human survival with what is often called, you know, the greatest national security threat to the United States. So you turn it into this military directive. During the 2016 presidential campaign, Hillary Clinton talked with her advisers about creating a climate war room in the White House if she won and actually, even during the primary season, Bernie Sanders called climate change the greatest national security threat to the country. So, you know, you have this kind of use of martial language to push forward the idea that this is a threat that needs to be dealt with, but on a scale at which almost no other institution that we have can handle because we put so much money into the military that when there’s a military threat, if we can deem something a military threat, or that there are military solutions to, that is what we will do, right? That is what we have funded the Pentagon to always be able to respond, it just depends on what we want to call the threat so that it can respond.

Adam: And then we saw this with COVID-19 response, which is where in many ways, the National Guard and military were actually the only institutions that could meet certain needs in an emergency, because we’ve gutted more civilian institutions, and so again, we constantly create, because we live in a garrison state, we live in a martial state, every single solution has to have a military component, and then invariably, that gets militarized, and of course the problem with that is that the military, again, views “climate change” in scare quotes. It is a risk to be mitigated. It is not something to be solved, they’re not interested in actually solving it. They don’t want to fundamentally reorder the global economy. They don’t want to fundamentally rethink American empire. That is not what they’re tasked to do. It’s not what they’re charged to do. It’s not their job. Their goal is to create a fortress America. It is to shore up America’s defenses against things like climate migration, things like what they call regional instability, which is another way of saying the poor people are going to start starving and our dictatorial regimes we prop up may be undermined. This is something that we’ve seen over the past 10 years especially, that this climate change discourse is now falling under the umbrella of national security, because every Democrat thinks they’re so fucking clever by doing so because they know, in their defense, this is probably true, it’s way more likely to get funded if you frame it as a military problem.

Nima: And that’s why you see headlines and articles like “We’re losing the war on climate change” from journalist John D. Sutter in a 2019 CNN column or quote, “We’re under attack from climate change — and our only hope is to mobilize like we did in WWII,” which is what environmentalist Bill McKibben wrote in The New Republic back in 2016. So, you know, these kind of like war narratives, the Marshall rhetoric, much like sports metaphors, are everywhere in American culture, they are so prevalent they kind of go unnoticed, they’re the air we breathe, they are water to a fish, so our politicians and press declare wars on drugs, on poverty, on cancer, on crime, on obesity, on terror, on Christmas, this year, we’ve heard countless references, as Adam just said, to the war on COVID-19, right? Doctors and nurses are described as soldiers on the front lines of the pandemic from San Diego to Nashville to New York City, we see Navy Blue Angels and Air Force Thunderbirds perform flyovers to honor healthcare workers and first responders. But none of these wars, none of them have actually been quote-unquote “won.” None are solved. That’s not the purpose of that kind of declaration and yet we hear that we must fight climate change, win battles over science and policy, become eco warriors and climate hawks in an all hands on deck mobilization to wage war against our own extinction. So those who act outside the prescribed limits of acceptable mainstream activism for climate are also declared to be — what? — eco terrorists. This kind of rhetoric really serves a function, but part of it is also to define an enemy and that can be really tricky when you have this kind of liberal jingoism pushing the conversation to the right and talking about war, because then you get into this nationalist stance, and you wind up actually identifying enemies in this fight that are maybe not the actual enemies that should be identified.

Adam: And these themes are prominent in the way the Democratic Party talks about climate change. Just so we’re not bashing a straw man we’ll give you some examples. The House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis identifies the goal of the climate crisis panel to, “Confront Climate Risks to America’s National Security and Restore America’s Leadership on the International Stage.” The Senate Democrats’ Special Committee on the Climate Crisis says, “Climate change poses direct threats to the safety of our service members and the effectiveness of our military operations. We must act now to increase the military’s resilience to a changing climate and transition to cleaner fuels and energy sources as a matter of mission assurance and national security.” A $738 bil­lion Nation­al Defense Autho­riza­tion Act for Fis­cal Year 2020 includes a pro­vi­sion that creates a, quote, ​“Cli­mate Secu­ri­ty Advi­so­ry Coun­cil” instruct­ed to improve coor­di­na­tion between intel­li­gence, defense and gov­ern­ment agen­cies in ana­lyz­ing ​“cli­mate security.” The NDAA provision primarily identifies climate security in terms of how climate change affects the US and its allies — it names, quote, ​“nation­al secu­ri­ty infra­struc­ture” and ​“the secu­ri­ty of allies and part­ners of the Unit­ed States,” and warns of, ‘‘ongo­ing or poten­tial polit­i­cal vio­lence, includ­ing unrest, riot­ing, guer­ril­la war­fare, insur­gency, ter­ror­ism, rebel­lion, rev­o­lu­tion, civ­il war and inter­state war.” So, does this mean that, under a climate plan directed by the military, we are supposed to let non allied countries like Cuba, Iran, Venezuela, die off or be seen as antithetical to our own interests? So again, when you read this shit, it’s very clear, and this is such an important thing to distinguish here, that they are talking about climate change as a risk to US hegemony and economic order of our elites, they do not view it as something that can be solved or should be solved per se, maybe mitigated perhaps, but it’s something that needs to pump more money into our security state into the DHS and into ICE, into police departments, into National Guard units, to protect us against the pending chaos that this climate crisis will cause. I cannot stress to you enough how fucking dangerous this is and how this is absolutely not the thing we should be funding because what you basically have is you have an implicit, I think, agreement here, or at least they’re hedging their bets, right? They’re putting their chips on double zero and single zero and they’re saying, ‘Okay, look, in the event, we don’t stop this in time,’ which most of us know we’re not going to because half the country, half of Congress doesn’t believe in it and the other half or seem very, as we talked about in previous episodes, and very disinterested in solving it with any degree of urgency, that basically this is going to be Fort Apache lock down, protect our borders and defend American financial interests.

Nima: Because there’s so much about then building up barriers to entry, making sure that the U.S. military can be mobilized against migrants, to make sure that people who may be crossing borders because of climate chaos, are turned back, are sent back, are caught, are captured, are imprisoned, are caged, and then “repatriated,” quote -unquote, you know, for daring to enter our sacred, guarded space that we need to treat as a garrison if we are to survive The idea that reducing the carbon footprint emission of the U.S. military, which, you know, has bases in 70 countries around the world. In our history as a nation, it’s been argued that we’ve been in a state of war for about 93 percent of the time that we have existed as a country. So, of course, the U.S. military is not interested in actually reducing its global presence or reducing emissions, reducing its carbon footprint. As David Vine documents in his book, The United States of War, U.S. military bases themselves play a role in fomenting war, and opening markets to capital. If you believe that war and capital are key barriers to the global cooperation and solidarity needed, absolutely required to even begin to address the climate crisis, it clearly follows that the global role of the U.S. military is a direct barrier to successfully, beneficially, positively addressing the climate crisis, even if they were to say green-up and use solar energy for their fucking aircraft carriers and the carbon footprint is reduced. And this actually leads us to a report called No Warming, No War: How Militarism Fuels the Climate Crisis — and Vice Versa, which is written by Lindsay Koshgarian and our guest today, Lorah Steichen, in which they write, “The fossil fuel industry relies on militarization to uphold its operations around the globe. Those who fight to protect their lands from extractive industries are often met with state and paramilitary violence.”

Adam: And there’s evidence that the U.S. military is of course planning a violent response to climate change as a U.S. border fortress issue. So there’s an article from Desert Lighting News, which is a regional military website that talks about the Air Force training for humanitarian crises caused by climate change and it describes an exercise where, “Air Forces Southern joined forces with the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Southern Command and multiple other federal agencies.” According to the piece, “The exercise anticipated the mass migration of people from multiple Caribbean islands after a series of hurricanes devastate the area. The goal of the exercise scenario was to effectively interdict and repatriate the migrants at sea who were attempting to enter the United States.” And this is one of many military drills that basically foresees mass migration due to the climate crisis and, you know, they’re not handing them water and letting them come into the United States and giving them jobs at the local Arby’s. They’re basically creating what are effectively internment camps and sending them back to where they’re from.

So again, because the US military and they’ll tell you this, they’re not a humanitarian organization. That’s not their job. Their job is to enforce violent order, that is why they exist and even some of these supposedly liberal military think tanks are drowning in fossil fuel money. So the Center for New American Century, they take large sums of money from Exxon Mobil, from Chevron, CSIS, where many of Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden’s other advisors come from, the Center for Strategic International Studies, which we’ve talked about to death, their second largest corporate sponsor is Chevron, they take money as well from ExxonMobil, from Shell, from Saudi Aramco, which is a Saudi owned oil firm. These are the institutions that fund the Democratic Party discourse and they are all, almost to the think tank, subsidized by fossil fuel companies and they’re subsidized by fossil fuel companies for a very good reason, which they understand that we cannot stop the gravy train and these are people who are not interested in meaningfully curbing climate crisis and if I’m a liberal think tank, or if I’m a center-left think tank, I think it really raises serious questions as to how much I really believe in climate change if I’m cashing checks from Exxon and Chevron.

Nima: There’s actually another aspect to this, which is that all of this kind of think tanking and liberal media opinion writing, as well as political discourse, of course, all of it really kind of exposes the utter disregard of how war and what we call foreign policy are themselves climate issues, and must always be considered in those terms. So like, for instance, Donald Trump and Republicans talk about China all the time and how China is a huge threat. Meanwhile, the Democratic Party attacks China almost from the right of Trump in the same way, they really embrace the escalation of war rhetoric, of competition, of aggression towards China and yet, this is almost never discussed as a fundamental climate issue, even though it may be the most important part of our relationship with China, given that the United States is the world’s top per capita carbon emitter, but meanwhile, China is the top overall carbon emitter, so we literally cannot curb the climate crisis or even begin to start solving it without the United States and China working extremely closely together. So as a result, you have this liberal nationalism coupled with the increased martial rhetoric and the idea that the military itself is literally going to help solve this, and you get stuff like this: So December 9, 2019, The New York Times publishing an op-ed by former Secretary of State John Kerry and Silicon Valley Congress member Ro Khanna entitled “Don’t Let China Win the Green Race.” So in this piece, if the title didn’t make this apparent, warns that China has become the world’s largest producer, exporter and installer of solar panels, wind turbines, batteries and electric vehicles, followed by Japan and Germany, and, quote, “may become the OPEC of the 21st-century energy industry.” End quote. Meanwhile, the US ranked fourth — behind China, Japan, Germany. Thus, it urged, that the US again is — what else? We’ve heard this before Adam — falling behind and needs to catch up! It’s notable also that in this piece, “Don’t Let China Win the Green Race,” despite outranking the US in this quote-unquote “race,” neither Japan nor Germany was singled out as a threat to US primacy. It’s not that we have to beat back Japan and Germany, we can let them win the green race — it’s only China.

Adam: Yeah, I mean, look, Thomas Friedman’s been writing some variation on this article for 20 years, which is like, he does this with education, we have to make sure we don’t get outstripped by China in education. We can’t Marshal any response to anything without framing it as some big bad boogeyman we have to beat even when it doesn’t make a ton of sense, because, climate change is a global cooperation thing. The idea that we need to worry about having more green tech to sell to the world in China, who gives a shit who sells it to them? This is the future of the world. What difference does it make if Silicon Valley doesn’t make all the profits off of it? What difference does it make? Who gives a shit? What matters is whether or not it gets done, whether or not green tech evolves in time to help solve the problem and this is, so again, it’s so cheap, right? It’s such a cheap way of phrasing it.

Nima: It’s the same reason why there’s now a vaccine war over COVID and, god forbid, foreign countries, what if Russia, you know, gets a vaccine before we do? Oh my god!

Adam: US Congressional Democrats write this article all the time. In 2015, in the Guardian, the headline read, “America must lead the climate change fight or our leadership record is toast,” written by Ben Cardin and Sheldon Whitehouse. An excerpt reads, quote:

“We have long been viewed globally as an exceptional country, with the world’s most powerful economy and military and a government that provides basic freedoms for its citizens. An American failure to lead on climate change will imperil our special status and dampen our global power to lead.”

What the fuck does that mean? Houston Chronicle 2013 Senators Lisa Murkowski and Joe Manchin wrote this headline, “US must lead on climate change.” Nevermind the fact that Manchin himself and his family has between $1 and $5 million invested in the coal business. In Bloomberg News from January of 2020, Noah Smith, their local kind of boring, neoliberal wrote, quote, “U.S. Leadership Needed to Fight Climate Change.” Politico, August 2019, “The U.S. left a hole in leadership on climate. China is filling it.” So again, you have this constant imperial neurosis that we’re somehow going to slip to second place and the only way you can make anyone give a shit is if you frame it as something we have to do to counter the big, bad Chinese. But again, if you’re looking at the existential threat of global destruction, if we don’t change or fundamentally reorder our economy in 10 to 15 years, I can’t think of a more dangerous way of framing the problem when we should be talking about information sharing, cooperation, joining multi-lateral, you know, getting the EU, getting Asia, all these countries involved, all the stuff you have to do to actually solve the problem. It’s the same insipid, lagging-behind narrative to justify pumping more green money into usually the military or their constituencies at, you know, large universities or research centers in their home states. It’s a very myopic and very cheap and easy way of framing the problem because, again, you never lose an election. You never don’t get on CNN, you never don’t get an op-ed in The New York Times by framing things in nationalist terms, we have to beat the big bad Chinese in the 21st century with green tech. It’s like, I don’t give a fuck the world’s gonna boil. What does this have to do with anything?

Nima: Right. We get to, you know, maybe one of my favorites in this genre via Foreign Affairs headline from their May/June 2020 issue, which is, quote, “The Strategic Case for U.S. Climate Leadership,” with the subhead, “How Americans Can Win With a Pro-Market Solution.” And then you have in early October of this year, October 5, 2020, you have Jason Bordoff writing in Foreign Policy this, “Everything You Think About the Geopolitics of Climate Change is Wrong,” with the subhead, “The transition to a zero-carbon world will shift power in very unexpected ways.”

Adam: Yeah, you see these people talking about the issue in the zero sum terms, like we’re gonna win and we should only care about it or give money to a project that reinforces US global dominance. I mean, they even say that in those terms. You look at it and you’re like, again, to use the analogy from the last episode, if a comet was coming towards us in 10 years, and we were writing articles about how it’s super important we build a spaceship that intercepts the comet and make sure China doesn’t do it, like why would I care if China does it? It boggles my mind. Why do I give a shit if it’s Azerbaijan, or Uruguay, it doesn’t fucking matter, this is so important, we should be thinking about ways we work together and collaborating, not speaking in the zero sum martial terms, which the reason why those martial terms exist is because that’s how you funnel more money into the military industrial complex, because this is just another cash grab for the Pentagon and parallel weapons contractor industries. They see climate change, and they don’t see an existential crisis, they don’t see something that’s based on extractivist and capitalist expansion and GDP fetishization, something that needs to involve the fundamental reordering of our economy and an investment in real green technology that’s not just snake oil and military spending. They don’t view it in those terms. They view it as a cash cow.

Nima: Let alone have anything to do with environmental justice.

Adam: Yeah, or reparations to the Global South or earning that shit and the people who peddle this kind of stuff to the military and say, ‘Well, green military’ it is just a cash grab. The military is not an environmental organization, that is not why it exists, and it never will be no matter how hard we try.

Nima: To discuss this more, we’re going to be joined by Lorah Steichen, Outreach Coordinator for the National Priorities Project at the Institute for Policy Studies. Lorah will join us in just a moment. Stay with us.


Nima: We are joined now by Lorah Steichen. Lorah, thank you so much for joining us today on Citations Needed.

Lorah Steichen: Thanks for having me.

Adam: So at the beginning of the show, we spent a great deal of time talking about the temptation of wrapping climate change action in the American flag. Like all manifestations of jingoism, it’s attractive I think first and foremost, because it’s sort of a cheap and easy, right? No one’s ever not been invited onto CNN or or lost ascendancy because they were too pro-military. It’s also a surefire way to direct money kind of vaguely at the problem that liberals correctly see as existential and urgent, especially under Trump where any non DoD climate change action has actually been banned by the White House so to some sense you can sort of understand it. But I want to begin by kind of laying out in general why a military focused approach to climate change, while superficially appealing, and again, sort of it’s the shortest line, why it’s fraught, why it’s not necessarily a good idea.

Lorah Steichen (Source: Institute For Policy Studies)

Lorah Steichen: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, this is a really critical question and, you know, as you alluded to, much like, you know, politicians across parties come together year after year to approve massive military expenditures in the United States with, you know, very little discussion, people, you know, across the political spectrum have fallen into categorizing climate change as a national security issue and I think, particularly for people on the left, and for environmentalists, there’s this sort of hope that the national security frame will communicate the severity of the problem, or it will get policymakers to, you know, finally take climate change seriously. After all, like you said, policymakers tend to have no qualms with allocating resources to the military so if climate change is a threat to national security, lawmakers will be motivated to pass legislation that finally deals with it or that’s the thinking for many anyways. The problem is looking at climate change through a militarized frame promotes a search for military solutions and it also helps legitimize US global militarism at a time when the United States really desperately needs to shift public resources away from funding war and weaponry instead to the massive level of public investment that really is required to prevent climate chaos at this point. Assessing climate change in national security terms, it’s something that’s been going on for a long time, it hasn’t brought us closer to the actions that we need to significantly curtail emissions or mitigate the crisis, that strategy has really not been successful. It hasn’t kept fossil fuels in the ground, or transformed our economy. In reality, rather than advocating to, you know, address the root causes of the crisis, military and security strategists are quick to highlight the opportunities for militarized responses to the impacts of climate change and the problem is not only in that it doesn’t get us anywhere in addressing the climate crisis, but it also leads us towards eco fascism and a militarized response to climate change. So you know, it’s really critical, as you said, that we sort of see through these false solutions that conflate climate fixes with national security, especially in this current context where we already have a bloated and growing military budget that we urgently need to reallocate in order to transform our extractive economy to one that works for people and the planet.

Nima: Yeah, it actually, you know, something that is striking to me is how the language, the kind of militarized language, also directly at odds with the reality of how the military comports itself around the world, it’s like we need to mobilize, we need to do all these things to mitigate the harm of climate change and then the military itself is a massive carbon emitter. So the report that you co-authored, No Warming, No War, states that the U.S. military produces about 59 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually, more greenhouse gas emissions than Sweden, Denmark and Portugal and according to a recent study from Brown University’s Costs of War Project, the Department of Defense is the world’s largest institutional user of petroleum and correspondingly the single largest producer of greenhouse gases in the world. So, meanwhile, high-profile liberals like Senator Elizabeth Warren, have released much mocked plans to quote-unquote “green the military,” which is maybe like a low point in the out of touch technocratic non solutions that we see, can we talk a little bit about why “greening the military” and that kind of language is actually a red herring and potentially a very dangerous one?

(Source: U.S. Department of Defense)

Lorah Steichen: Yeah. I mean, there’s a couple of different angles to this question, I think to start, the U.S. military is incredibly carbon intensive like you said, and just with that in mind, there are pretty significant limitations on the extent to which carbon emissions could be reasonably scaled back by quote-unquote “greening operations” as opposed to just significantly scaling them back. So if you look, for example, at Senator Warren’s plan, this plan aimed to achieve net zero emissions for all non combat bases and infrastructure by 2030 and that’s actually, it is a significant source of emissions considering the US operates 800 military bases in more than 70 countries, but that still only addresses a fraction of the military’s carbon consumption and emissions because those emissions are so massive. So this plan excludes, for example, the emissions it requires to send troops weaponry, supplies to these 800 locations around the globe and that sort of movement of people and materials is happening almost constantly. Jet fuel is the military’s most heavily used fuel and a significant portion of the military’s arsenal that burns jet fuel can’t run on wind or solar panels. One of the sort of startling statistics that we cite in the report is that just one of the military’s jets, the B-52 Stratofortress, consumes about as much fuel in a single hour as the average car driver uses in seven years. So, these are really massive emissions and right now there is really no comparable alternative to energy dense jet fuel and many of the sort of so-called green alternatives have environmental problems of their own and are really just cases of greenwashing. So sure, it’s certainly possible to power military bases with solar panels or other forms of renewable energy, but at the same time, there are these whole other ranges of emissions that are excluded from these plans. So it’s really not possible to run the US military in a way that’s even remotely green. So that’s just sort of debunking the premise. But on top of these really technical limitations of the military’s greening aspirations, plans to make the US war machine more fuel efficient, I mean, come on, it totally misses the point. We don’t want a carbon neutral war, we don’t want net-zero emissions war, we just don’t want war and greening the military certainly does nothing to change the violent and oppressive purpose, strategies, activities of the military, which are also tied up in the very extractive fossil fueled economy. And then finally, it’s really worth interrogating the military’s own sort of motivations to go green and this goes back to the conversation about framing climate changes and national security issues. So if we really examine the ways that the military is, you know, supposedly dealing with climate change, those methods tend to be rooted in maintaining operability and just inviting solutions that justify more militarization and bigger military budgets and not a renegotiation of priorities to, you know, shift funds away from the war machine and towards climate solutions, is really what we need to do to achieve climate justice.

Adam: Yeah, the level of credulity when people talk about greening a military, Michael Klare, whose book we criticized, or his interview we criticized in the beginning of the program, you know, he writes for The Nation, so to have some lefty cred, he talks about his solution to all this stuff about greening the military is they need to buy more shit, which no matter what the game is, no matter what the sort of mazes or what the parlor game is, in media, the answer is always more money for the military. It doesn’t even matter what the question is, right?

Lorah Steichen: Yeah.

Adam: And so even this sort of nominally liberal or kind of, I think, there’s this cynical pivot that goes into it. I want to talk about that cynical pivot, where you sort of have to ignore history and kind of check your brain at the door and I think that when the military talks about climate change, it does so in the same way that police talk about Black Lives Matter, or Davos talks about inequality, right? It’s in scare quotes. Or the way the Orkin man talks about an infestation. It’s something to be managed and combated, not something that’s actually the underlying issue to be solved. It’s sort of seen as a risk factor, right?

Lorah Steichen: Yeah.

Adam: And that’s where I think a lot of the sleight of hand takes place. People don’t really realize that when the military talks about climate change, it’s not some moral imperative for action.

Nima: An eco-friendly occupation.

Lorah Steichen: Right.

Adam: It’s just a cynical cash grab, as you write, quote, “The arms industry thrives on insecurity and perceptions of it, and has already begun promoting itself as a solution to climate chaos. With tight collaboration between the military and the corporations who profit off its expansion, climate chaos offers new business opportunities in expanding markets.” We see this with the way that weapons contractor-backed and weapons sales lobbyists like CSIS, we see this a lot with Brookings Institute, they’re sort of pitching climate changes that basically are another growth sector of the arms industry, I want to talk about that, I want you to comment on that and how much of this is really sort of just a way of selling more shiny objects for the next NDA budget?

Lorah Steichen: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, it’s pretty clear that for the Pentagon, climate change is yet another security issue requiring more militarism and justifying a bigger military budget and for defense contractors it’s a business opportunity, right? Like you said, there’s a lucrative industry that revolves around a militarized security-led and for profit approach to climate adaptation and disaster response and we’ve seen, you know, many of the top security contracting companies publicly sort of advertising this as their latest business venture. So certainly, across the military sector, climate change when it’s framed as a national security issue, really easily falls into another cash grab opportunity and a really good recent example of this is the Pentagon’s recent misuse of COVID-19 relief funds. Much of the $1 billion in congressionally approved or appropriated COVID-19 relief funds, was funneled primarily to military contractors and used to make things like jet engines, body armors, even dress uniforms. So I mean, this is just you know, this is an example of the Pentagon is not a public health organization, it should not be solving the COVID-19 pandemic and we see that when money is funneled to the Pentagon for that purpose, it’s not going towards that and the same is true for the climate crisis and so I think this really speaks to the fact that, you know, we need civilians to really take over the military’s resources, not the other way around.

Nima: Yeah, you know, one thing that your report addresses that I’d love to touch on is how climate change and border militarization are, as you write, inextricably linked, and that obviously, as our planet continues to burn, there will obviously be much more migration and the cross border movement of human beings and that as that obviously increases, we see corresponding threats to people’s lives, to freedom of movement and, you know, as you write, quote, “Immigrant justice is climate justice and challenging militarism is critical to achieving both,” end quote. So can we maybe talk about how this Fort Apache-style approach that the military is taking to climate change, defending, protecting, walling off, border security, necessarily means that these militaristic solutions — Surprise! Surprise! — won’t actually be equitable, they will be violent, and they certainly will not be concerned at all with any matters of say, justice.

Lorah Steichen: Yeah, I mean, look, even while climate action has stalled on Capitol Hill and in the White House, even while those bodies have been run by literal climate deniers, this whole time the Pentagon has been quietly sort of preparing for climate change for years and Pentagon reports going back decades publicly acknowledge not only the existence of climate change, but also documents, plans to advance a militarized response to the conditions of a climate change world. And this is what writer Christian Parenti has called the politics of the “armed lifeboat” and this is a climate response based not on, you know, mitigating the damage or preparing to cope with the impacts of climate change but on arming ourselves up as a nation to control resources and shutting down our borders to, like you said, an expected wave of climate refugees. This is certainly a form of climate fascism and a politics based on exclusion and segregation and repression. It widens the gulf between the environmentally secure and the environmentally insecure and Department of Defense and notably, also Department of Homeland Security publications, don’t attempt to hide this ethos, or this posture. Look, there will be massive waves of migration because of climate change and while the United States and the rest of the Global North are certainly not spared from the devastating impacts of climate change, I think that’s increasingly clear, the Global South and the poor, by far bear the brunt. The United States is responsible for a quarter of the historical greenhouse gas emissions that are in the atmosphere today and that statistic alone shows that, you know, the United States clearly owes a debt to displaced people around the world. But meanwhile, the Department of Homeland Security and the Pentagon are citing the climate crisis to justify more border militarization and the deportation of immigrants and that’s all on top of the role that US wars and interventionism has played in forcing migration and forced displacement. In other contexts, there’s new data from the Costs of War that indicates that at least 37 million people have been displaced abroad by wars since 9/11, by US wars since 9/11. That’s about the size of the entire population of California or Canada. So it’s clear that new ecological realities of climate change will compound existing conflicts and so it’s also pretty clear how interconnected struggles against militarism are with struggles for migrant justice and climate justice.

Adam: We rarely discuss the issue of war and militarism as an impediment to climate, meaningful climate, global cooperation, which I find kind of shocking, because you know, on one hand we’re given these very narrow timetables, we’re told the world’s going to boil in ten years, which it no doubt will or something close to that, 15 years, maybe 20 years. Then you see things like Matt Yglesias on Glenn Beck’s show talking about how we need to compete with China and China can’t be number one in the world and there’s this sort of constant imperial neurosis about not being number one, whatever that means exactly, and every time I sort of see these arguments, these arguments about how we must have a confrontational stance with China, to compete with China and East Asia, regardless of what one thinks about the moral properties of doing that or the moral properties of China or the moral properties of the Pentagon, even setting that aside, the idea that we can somehow address climate change without cooperating with large economies like China, and the EU, but that’s maybe less of an issue, runs counter to everything that we know about what needs to happen, right? Like China can’t do it by themselves, we can’t do it by ourselves, whole continents can’t do this by themselves, there has to be some degree of global cooperation. I guess, in your work, it’s frustrating, because you sort of see this kind of, and I see this too, where it’s like, ‘Oh, well, if American empire doesn’t exist, some other baddie will take our place. That if we’re not in Afghanistan then China will be and if we’re not in Kazakhstan, Russia will be and therefore it’s okay. That that we’re sort of the least bad option, just kind of the liberal cop out when you get them, you know, maybe two beers at a party, someone at the State Department will say, ‘Oh, yeah, of course we’re evil, but we’re less evil,’ sort of what they say, right? Now, the problem with this, of course, as you note in your line of work, which is that, if you’re in a hostile position, and if the other guy is Nazi Germany, and I guess vice versa too, there is no real way US military escalation can be all conducive in the coming, let’s say a Biden administration or whatever, next four, eight years, that those two things are mutually exclusive. Can we talk about how heightened rhetoric and heightened military escalation makes any kind of global cooperation, at least from my perspective, totally impossible?

Lorah Steichen: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, US military escalations are certainly a major threat to our basic ability to curb climate change on so many levels. I think US military bases say a lot about the United States posture towards the rest of the world in this respect. Like I mentioned before, while the United States has 800 foreign military bases, the next country has less than 20. So that’s a massive, polluting, misdirection of resources that escalates hostilities instead of encouraging cooperation on climate and other challenges. Even as the next largest military spender, China, has nowhere near the global military footprint as the United States. There’s also the issue of budget priorities. We spent more than $6.4 trillion on war in the past two decades. By comparison, the cost of decarbonizing the US power grid is estimated to be $4.5 trillion. So we could have literally transformed our energy grid by now already, and had literally trillions of dollars leftover. So it’s clear that war and militarism divert resources away from things that actually keep us safe. And at the end of the day, it’s not just about the money either, but the misdirection of actual physical resources and people needed here at home to curb climate change. A striking recent example of this is that, while Oregon was on fire, many of the state’s largest firefighting aircraft weren’t available because the Department of Defense had sent them to Afghanistan to fight in the 20 year old war. So it’s critical that we’re clear about the implications of the United States’ militarized budget priorities, and that we sort of challenged the dominance and the normalization of US militarism. We spoke earlier about the ways that climate change framed, you know, as a national security issue plays into a militarized worldview that’s so common in the United States and, like you said, if we’re going to solve the climate crisis, we not only need to rethink how we’re situated in this crisis, we also need a more expansive political imagination for what’s possible and other frames like understanding climate change as a planetary emergency, for example, can help foster a spirit and ethic of global cooperation that we need to curb climate change. A part of that project is also a reconceptualization of what national security even means, and an investment in new forms of international cooperation, to develop global solutions to global problems. We can’t do it on our own and certainly no other state can either.

Nima: Yeah, you know, you talk about how reframing climate change as a crisis or a climate emergency, I know, the Guardian in collaboration with The Nation and Columbia Journalism Review and others at Columbia University have, you know, really tried to determine what kind of language can be most motivating, most kind of salient and powerful and as we’ve been discussing on the show, obviously, the militarization of language is something that has a very long history. And I think that in its best intention is still incredibly dangerous, but in its best intention, you know, kind of has that urgency baked in, right? So, how do you get a population to unite and to see something as a massive looming threat that must be mobilized against with force. But we’ve been talking about how dangerous that language is, obviously, and the reality of how the military operates in the world, what are ways maybe that you have thought of to reframe this, you know, yes, emergency, but are there other kinds of language that can be used that can be just as motivating as militaristic language, but maybe don’t have that kind of dangerous baggage that comes along with it?

Lorah Steichen: Yeah. So I mean, I think that this militarized language and militarized framework is sort of fallen back on really commonly, there’s some groups that we see using terms like ‘we need a wartime effort to stop the climate crisis,’ or even if we’re not directly supporting militarized solutions, we’re still sort of romanticizing wartime efforts and so I think we have a lot of work to do in introducing sort of new frameworks that are outside of this sort of hyper patriotic and militarized and imperialist framework for coming together to solve a problem and I think a part of that is expanding the scope of the discourse so that it’s not just ‘how are we as the United States going to solve this crisis,’ again, that sort of falls into a lot of those same traps, and really erases the role that the United States has played in causing the crisis, but we need to come up with conversations that are more global, with frameworks that rely on global cooperation and global care and don’t situate the United States, as this almighty force that’s gonna save the day. I think we need to really do away with US exceptionalism, even in our narratives around solving the climate crisis, and really embrace frameworks and language of global cooperation, and also the role that the United States needs to play in caring for people from other countries and in repairing harms that we’ve done on a global scale. We’re not going to be able to do that by falling into these same militarized frameworks that just support US militarism and US imperialism.

Adam: Now, an obvious hole in the militarization of climate change strategy is that the primary force that targets climate protesters is the military and adjacent agencies themselves. In the coming decade or so I think it’s fair to say mass civil unrest, nonviolent action, and other forms of extra legal means will, I think, at least in my estimation, will invariably be needed, if we’re going to stop the broader forces of climate destruction. So putting these oppressive forces, you know, military, Department of Homeland Security, all the adjacent agencies that go along with it, military funded police departments, military supplied police departments, putting those forces in charge of solving the problem, that they both drive and exist to protect, the military exists to protect the expansion of US led global capital, which is, of course a huge driver, if not the primary driver of global warming, it seems to be based on a kind of massive contradiction as is using the police department to solve racism. It’s the thing that they exist to do; they exist to defend pretty much every national security think tank for very good reason is funded by Exxon Mobil, funded by Shell, funded by Saudi Aramco. They fund those think tanks —

Nima: And Raytheon.

Adam: Well, right, and weapons contractors, but they do that presumably for a reason, right?

Lorah Steichen: Yeah.

Adam: Just one example you use, you talk about the way that local police in at least five states, quote, “Collaborated closely with a private security firm TigerSwan, which originated as a US military and State Department contractor to target indigenous resistance in the Dakota Access Pipeline.” We know this is the case for other climate action, Department of Homeland Security, ICE works with CIA created Palantir, they all to some extent have these fusion centers, which share information which are heavily militarized, work with the NSA, which is a military operation. Tell us about the ways in which the military and the National Guard, which is of course, an extension of the military, tell us how their role in snuffing out the DAPL indigenous protesters kind of shows some of the problems with this kind of militarized climate solution moving forward, the contradiction inherent in these forces.

Lorah Steichen: Yeah, absolutely. In our No Warming, No War report, we sort of frame the entire discourse around the relationship between climate and militarism, within the just transition framework that was developed by the climate justice movement and this isn’t just a framework for transitioning folks out of fossil fuel jobs, it’s an entire framework that maps out the transformation of the unjust extractive economy we have now to adjust regenerative living economy and within that framework we recognize, like you said, that violent militarism is really what keeps an extractive economic system that exploits people and the planet in operation, right? So, you know, people have always resisted the exploitation of the extractive economy, but it’s violence and it’s the threat of violence that keeps the economic system going. So what we see is those who stand up against corporate polluters, notably, indigenous land and water protectors, are often met with a militarized response to suppress resistance and ultimately to protect fossil fuel companies’ bottom line. People who are protecting land and water are increasingly characterized as eco-terrorists and so we see sort of the same language used to justify war and military aggression used to target those who resist the domination and exploitation of the fossil fuel economy. Like you said, a good example of this is Standing Rock. Internal documents from the private security firm TigerSwan that you mentioned, compare water protectors at Standing Rock to jihadist fighters, and TigerSwan was created by a military veteran and originated as a military contractor before it went to work suppressing water protectors at Standing Rock. In that case, in the case of the Dakota Access Pipeline, we saw peaceful protests of indigenous water protectors and their allies met with a heavily, heavily militarized police apparatus and this was an entire apparatus, this included local and out of state police and sheriff’s deputies, it included Bureau of Indian Affairs, police, National Guard troops, and you know, this all sort of creates a battlefield-like atmosphere at Standing Rock. It’s also notable to say that it’s very likely that some of the equipment used by police was obtained through the Department of Defense 1033 Program that gives riot gear, weaponized vehicles, all sorts of other military equipment to local police. So this is the same system of military transfers that we’ve, you know, talked about in recent months that has led to the militarization of police that’s, you know, brutalizing black led movements against police brutality in streets across the United States. So this relationship between the Department of Defense and militarized police is clear. It’s also worth noting that recent reporting revealed that police foundations across the United States regularly receive funding from oil and gas companies, private utilities and financial institutions. So, these are all examples that really demonstrate that the role of state violence and militarism has played, not only in perpetuating, but upholding the systems that have caused the climate crisis and it just goes to show that if we don’t divest from militarism, then it’s really not possible to build the kind of healthy living economy that we need to stay safe and care for each other and care for our planet.

Adam: Yeah, because it’s, again, there’s a contradiction at the heart of all this, which is that there’s the old cliche socialism or barbarism, which we’ve talked about, especially since the COVID crisis happened, I think it is generally true that it’s sort of like The New York Times needle when it goes in one direction, the other direction increases. So when we have more barbarism, we have more militarism, when we have greater social welfare, there’s less need for militarism, right? That’s the sort of point of the verbal jack booted thug, he exists to sort of enforce order when order breaks down and order breaks down because of broader social failures. You see this all the time with police and cutting community centers and mental health facilities and education, you see a corresponding increase in crime. When it comes to the climate crisis, again, this is my own assertion, but I just can’t imagine a realistic play-the-tape-to-the-end, 10–15 years looking ahead, where purely voting harder is going to actually solve this problem. There is going to have to be mass unrest, whether it be violent or nonviolent and it seems like pumping money into the system that’s going to suppress that unrest, suppress that civil disobedience, suppress those who chained themselves to this or that, really, I think, is very sinister, because you’re feeding the forces that will invariably put their boot on the neck of the movements required to actually solve the problem.

Lorah Steichen: Yeah, I think truly, it’s not going to be possible for us to realize this vision of transformation or just transition or however you imagine our future, it’s not possible unless we demilitarize our economy at the same time that we move away from fossil fuels and extractivism.

Nima: Yeah, I mean, it is no secret or surprise that colonialism, imperialism and extraction have always worked hand in hand in hand and that I mean, the US military has been fighting wars and overthrowing governments for oil and other resources to extract for decades, for over almost a century, probably and so, yeah, to see these things as being like, ‘Oh, what we need is the military to come in and green up’ and then we also use all this martial language to motivate our own population just seems incredibly, incredibly fraught. But Lorah, before we let you go, what are you all at the Institute for Policy Studies working on now, you put out that amazing report, but what else can we expect?

Lorah Steichen: Yeah, one thing I will plug that we’ve put out since putting out this report, which really sort of goes hand in hand in a lot of ways with what we talked about in the No Warming, No War report, is a militarized budget analysis. So, of course, our sort of trademark is federal budget analysis and analysis on military spending and the militarized budget analysis that we’ve been working on adds up all the other forms of militarized spending in the federal discretionary budget besides just the Pentagon and so what we find is that when we add in things like the Department of Homeland Security, for example, instead of about half of the federal discretionary budget, militarization accounts for almost two thirds of the entire federal discretionary budget and this budget, this militarized budget, speaks to a lot of the work that we’re doing to draw connections between militarisation at home and abroad, which is sort of increasingly relevant to folks I think, so check that out. It’s on our website NationalPriorities.org, along with this report and a whole lot of other resources.

Nima: That is fantastic and a perfect place to leave it. We’ve been speaking with Lorah Steichen, Outreach Coordinator for the National Priorities Project at the Institute for Policy Studies, which is dedicated to fighting for a US federal budget that prioritizes peace, economic security and shared prosperity. Lorah, thank you, again, so much for joining us today on Citations Needed.

Lorah Steichen: Thank you.


Adam: Yeah, definitely check out the report, we’ll have it in the show notes. It’s very interesting, very thorough, a lot of good information there, a lot of good examples of using the military’s own internal documents and language about how they view climate change, which again, I think there’s a bit of a bit of a disconnect with how average people, lefties talk about it versus how the military talk about it. I think knowing the difference between how the rich think of inequality versus how the poor think of inequality, how environmentalists think of climate change versus how the Pentagon thinks of climate change, how a scared angry, white person looking through their blinds calling the police views crime versus how African Americans view crime. I mean, the context of these things matters in acting like you can sort of just transfer over the meaning of these concepts from one context to another really takes a certain amount of credulity, and I think on the part of those who know better, cynicism, to basically just again, create another cash grab vertical for weapons makers in the Pentagon.

Nima: The fact is that there is no military solution to our climate emergency, either in rhetoric or reality. Environmental justice organizations have obviously known this for years — October 27, 2020 actually marked the 29th anniversary of the First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit, where delegates drafted and adopted 17 Principles of Environmental Justice, which not only opposes “the destructive operations of multi-national corporations,” but also “military occupation, repression and exploitation of lands, peoples and cultures, and other life forms.” Climate change has its roots in colonialism, exploitation and genocide and many of those who will suffer and die first and most from its lethal effects have long been on the brutal and bloody business end of American military and economic domination and extraction. Further entrenching Fortress America’s imperial war-footing will obviously not reduce our carbon footprint. For our species to have a chance of surviving on this planet, the military needs to, at bare minimum, pull way back rather than push forward. And that’s where we’ll leave it today. Thank you all for listening to this episode of Citations Needed. Of course, you can follow the show on Twitter @CitationsPod, Facebook Citations Needed, become a supporter of our work through Patreon.com/CitationsNeededPodcast with Nima Shirazi and Adam Johnson. Of course, an extra special shout out goes to our Critic-level supporters through Patreon. I am Nima Shirazi.

Adam: I’m Adam Johnson.

Nima: Citations Needed is produced by Florence Barrau-Adams. Associate producer is Julianne Tveten. Production assistant is Trendel Lightburn. Special thanks to Sarah Lazare for helping us out with this two part episode on climate change. The newsletter is by Marco Cartolano. Transcriptions are by Morgan McAslan. The music is by Grandaddy. Thanks again for listening everyone. We’ll catch you next time.


This episode of Citations Needed was released on Wednesday, October 28, 2020.

Transcription by Morgan McAslan.



Citations Needed

A podcast on media, power, PR, and the history of bullshit. Hosted by @WideAsleepNima and @adamjohnsonnyc.