Environment & Health

Fight Climate Change, Not Wars

In the U.S. plenty of bloggers have pointed to the irony of Barack Obama collecting the Peace Prize while he launches a major escalation of the war in Afghanistan.

Here in Copenhagen, the Nobel — which was awarded in part because of Obama's re-engagement with the climate change negotiations — carries a special set of ironies.

The figure U.S. negotiators are floating for how much Washington will contribute to an international climate change fund is a paltry $1.4 billion. Meanwhile, the cost of the “surge” in Afghanistan is estimated at $30-billion to $40 billion. Yesterday I interviewed Kumi Naidoo, the new director of Greenpeace International, and he made this point forcefully:

And the issue is not only that wars hog money that needs to be spent helping countries adapt to climate change and shift to green energy. Those wars also deepen the climate crisis because they are themselves major sources of greenhouse gasses.

So, in honor of Obama's Nobel, Stephen Kretzmann of Oil Change International has pulled together this superb analysis of the links between war and climate change.

Take a look — it's just one more reason to bring the troops home.

War and Warming, by Stephen Kretzmann

The connections between war and warming go deeper than as Alan Greenspan put it, the “politically inconvenient” [fact that] “everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil.” When we choose to go to war, that choice means money is no longer available for other things, such as clean energy or funding for communities vulnerable to climate impacts around the world. And the war itself, with all its planes, trucks, missiles, and ships, emits huge amounts of greenhouse gases — that no one tracks.

Fighting wars is mind-bendingly expensive, exceeding the costs of even the bank bailout money. Some key figures:

Fighting wars is mind-bendingly expensive, exceeding the costs of even the bank bailout money. Some key figures:

  • Projected Total Cost Iraq War: at least $3 trillion
  • Total Obama Admin (FY2010) Defense Budget request: $687 billion
  • Additional amount estimated for Obama's Afghan surge: $40 billion

The fact that the Obama administration has already chosen to invest further in war has a rather steep opportunity cost, in addition to its actual cost.

The money that has been spent this decade by the American taxpayer on war could instead, had we wanted it to, funded all the needed global investments in clean energy out to 2030.

The sums being discussed here in Copenhagen are actually much more modest than the trillions spent recently on war. The United Nations recently estimated that $500 billion would be needed (from all the developed world – not just the US) to help build a global clean energy economy and to help vulnerable communities adapt to the impacts of climate change. Oxfam puts it at $200 billion.

Sadly, even these sums aren't on the table. There is an ongoing discussion of just $10 billion in so-called “fast track funding”, and of that, the US has pledged “its fair share. Jonathan Pershing, Obama's Deputy Special Envoy for Climate Change, seems to be arguing that this is only $1.5 billion.

That's right, that would be half of what the Administration just gave Exxon, and a fraction of its ongoing subsidies to fossil fuels.

There is currently nothing, nada, zip on the table for long term climate finance.

Obama to World: Drop Dead.

Turns out that money doesn't actually grow on trees – it's manufactured in weapons factories.

Emissions from war are more difficult to quantify. On the fifth anniversary of the war, Oil Change International published A Climate of War, a report that quantified the emissions of the war from March 2003 through until December 2007. We used very conservative estimates and left many things out when we couldn't get reliable numbers, and still the number was staggering.

The Iraq war was responsible for at least 141 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MMTCO2e) from March 2003 through December 2007. To put that into perspective, if the US military operations in Iraq were ranked as a country in terms of emissions, it would emit more CO2 each year than 139 of the world's nations do annually. Falling between New Zealand and Cuba, the war emits more than 60% of all countries.

This was a difficult report to write – because this information is not readily available. The reason the information is not available is because military emissions abroad are exempt from national reporting requirements under US law and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

All these emissions need to be counted, because the atmosphere doesn't care if you're looking for weapons of mass destruction or terrorists, or even fighting the good fight (not that we've seen much of that recently). These are currently completely uncounted emissions. It's a loophole big enough to drive a tank through.

So while President Obama is receiving his Peace Prize for whatever it is he might do someday on climate change, perhaps someone should ask if the emissions from the Afghan surge will swamp the meager reductions that the US has on the table in Copenhagen. But that's not really a politically convenient question, now is it?

—Steve Kretzmann is Director of Oil Change International

Research support for Naomi Klein's reporting from Copenhagen was provided by the Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute. They were published in collaboration with The Nation.

About the reporter

Naomi Klein

Naomi Klein

Naomi Klein is an award-winning journalist, syndicated columnist and author of the international bestseller No Is Not Enough.


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