Guest Commentary: Climate and the US Military – Why It Is Both So Simple and So Hard to Change Our Ways

Source: Getty Images

By Mark Dempsey 

Congress just approved a bigger military budget than the administration requested.

Politico reports “Lawmakers approved the National Defense Authorization Act in a 316-113 [64 percent – 36 percent] vote with broad support from Democrats and Republicans as momentum builds on Capitol Hill to add upwards of $25 billion to Biden’s defense proposal.”

Does the military have a climate impact?

“The military remains the single largest consumer of fossil fuels on the planet,” according to the Union of Concerned Scientists.” And…”The U.S. Department of Defense has a larger annual carbon footprint than most countries on Earth, and it also is the single largest polluter on Earth.” [Democracy Now Nov 9, 2021]

So…why does Congress keep supporting, even augmenting, the military’s environmental insensitivity?

The first answer is the all-too-human pursuit of safety without any limit. People can never have enough safety, justice…and even vengeance (with five percent of the world’s population, the U.S. has 25 percent of its prisoners).

People have been taught believe the military provides safety, and incarceration “protects” the public. This is roughly like believing beating  children is the only effective way to raise them–misguided, at best, counterproductive at worst.

Economics provides the other answer: When lobbied by the Indivisible organization to reduce military spending, a Senator told constituents that his state (Maine) had 7,000 military-related jobs at a single ironworks there. He couldn’t throw those people out of work. It would be politically impossible.

And those iron workers are just the tip of the carbon pollution iceberg. If our government seriously addressed the climate catastrophe barreling down the tracks toward us it would throw all the coal miners and oilfield workers out of work. Any policy that would effectively reduce carbon emissions would paint a target on the politicians who support it.

Speaking of jobs: “A study by the Political Economy Research Center at the University of Massachusetts found that military spending creates fewer jobs than almost any other form of government spending.

It found that $1 billion invested in the military yields an average of 11,200 jobs, while the same amount invested in other areas yields: 26,700 jobs when invested in education; 17,200 in healthcare; 16,800 in the green economy; or 15,100 jobs in cash stimulus or welfare payments.

It is tragic that the only form of Keynesian stimulus that is uncontested in Washington is the least productive for Americans, as well as the most destructive for the other countries where the weapons are used.

These irrational priorities seem to make no political sense for Democratic Members of Congress, whose grassroots voters would cut military spending by an average of $100 billion per year based on [a] Maryland poll. [From here]

So…all the progress toward a carbon tax or international agreements (G20 and COP26) to reduce carbon, or even moves to reduce the estimated trillions ($6 trillion in 2021, says the IMF) in petroleum subsidies will confront these facts of life.

Any proposed change would cost lots of workers their jobs, and cost the companies who own the factories, drilling and minerals their investment–if that shift away from petroleum and coal is successful, never mind the losses suffered by the military-industrial complex if congress reduced its funding.

The Solution

The solution to these problems is actually simple. The governments who create their own money need to compensate the equipment owners, and fund a job guarantee for those displaced.

They don’t even need to raise taxes. Government already buys surplus soybeans and cheese. Why not buy surplus labor and recycle drilling/mining equipment? Is that such a stretch?

If taxes provision federal programs, then where do taxpayers get those dollars they use to pay the taxes if government doesn’t spend them first? It’s not “tax & spend,” it must be “spend first, then retrieve some dollars in taxes.” Taxes create the demand for dollars; they don’t fund government programs for currency creators.

“Where will all that money come from?” The same place it all comes from: sovereign, fiat money issuers create the money, virtually without cost, and their power to tax makes it valuable. Monetary sovereigns are fiscally unconstrained.

And if you don’t believe me, take a look at the Fed’s actions in the wake of Lehman’s bankruptcy in 2007-8.

The Fed’s own audit declares that it extended $16 – $29 trillion in credit to the same financial sector whose frauds crashed the economy. No taxes rose. No inflation occurred. Our central bank just extended the credit to save the banking system.

Is it so hard to believe we could use a similar remedy for the climate catastrophe?

And what do we call the money spent, but not retrieved in taxes? Answer #1: the dollar financial assets of the population (their savings). Answer #2: National ‘debt.’ This is analogous to our bank accounts which are our assets, but to the bank, they are a liability (a debt).

Another example of when the public sector issued money to deal with a problem: World War II. No one said “Sure, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, but we’re low on cash, so we won’t respond.” The government took over 50 percent of the economy then.

To implement the Green New Deal, government would only have to take five percent of the economy. All we need to do is acknowledge that climate is as big an existential threat as war.

So…simple, right? What do you want to bet people will be skeptical about this?

That’s why Marshall McLuhan says “Only puny secrets need protection. Big discoveries are protected by public incredulity.” We’re attached to the answers we’ve been told, even if they’re obviously misguided.

The author was in the real estate business for nearly two decades, and spent half that time sitting on a Sacramento County Planning Advisory Council, hearing development proposals.

About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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