Climate ripe for military budget overhaul
By Miriam Pemberton
The United States military devotes prodigious time and resources to analyzing
future threats and trying to prepare for them. Since the end of the Cold War it
has been going through a painful, two-steps-forward-one-and-a-half-steps
backward process of reorienting a force structure organized around fighting
conventional wars against peer adversaries, notably the Soviet Union, to one
better suited to facing "asymmetric" threats: guerrilla forces, insurgents and
non-state actors in general.
A quick indicator of how entrenched the old mindset still is given in the
budget for new weapons purchases . Most of this budget is still devoted to
spending ever-higher amounts on such items as "stealth" fighters, high-tech
destroyers, and a new fleet of
submarines that are irrelevant to fighting terrorism.
A threat that has caught the military's attention is the security implications
of climate change. As early as 1997, the Central Intelligence Agency set up an
Environmental Center that examined the degradation of land and water as a
source of armed conflict around the world. Such niche efforts within the US
security establishment have now gone mainstream.
Last year, the Pentagon commissioned a group of retired officers, including
Marine General Anthony Zinni, former head of US Central Command, to study the
issue. Its report, published by the CNA Corporation, a Pentagon-funded think
tank, called climate change a dangerous "threat multiplier" that could produce
resource wars and failed states.
Most recently the royal United Services Institute, a UK defense think tank,
released a report underscoring these concerns. It called the world's response
to date "slow and inadequate" and added that "climate impacts will force us
into a radical rethink of how we identify and secure our national interests."
On a conventional battlefield, when generals perceive a new threat emerging on,
say, their right flank, they will naturally pivot their forces to confront it.
Tackling the security threat of climate change will require immediate and
drastic reductions of our greenhouse emissions. This will take, among other
things, a lot of money. If the security threat is as great as the military now
says it is, it will be necessary to pivot substantial resources to address it.
The military has so far not followed the logic of its threat analysis to this
While the federal budget assigns military spending its first and most prominent
spot, it has no category for spending on climate issues. In 2005, a
congressional committee required the administration to begin providing an
annual report detailing this spending. Foreign Policy In Focus has compared the
2008 financial year budgets for our military forces and for stabilizing the
climate. The overall top lines: our military forces were budgeted US$647.51
billion (including supplemental spending on the wars we are actually fighting)
while resources to slow climate change were budgeted at $7.37 billion. In other
words, we are spending $88 on our military forces for every $1 we are devoting
to averting climate catastrophe.
The imbalance is likewise severe, if somewhat less extreme, in the budgets for
technology development and international assistance. We are spending $20 to
develop new weapons systems for every $1 we are spending on new clean energy
and energy-saving technologies. And we are spending $50 to sell and give away
US-made weapons around the world, mostly to undemocratic regimes, for every $1
we are spending to help the rest of the world reduce emissions and deal with
the current effects of climate change.
Al Gore, in his 2007 Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, called on the world's
nations to mobilize to avert climate disaster "with a sense of urgency and
shared resolve that has previously been seen only when nations have mobilized
for war." That will entail committing to a climate change industrial policy.
New industrial policy
The term industrial policy has been taboo within the leadership of both major
parties for many decades, carrying the taint of planned-economy socialism. All
the while, of course, we have had a robust defense industrial policy.
As we now know, an unplanned economy of unchecked greenhouse gas emissions is
no longer possible and must be planned and executed out of existence. The main
event will be setting increasingly strict ceilings on emissions. Federal
spending to prod and assist in the transition to clean energy and energy
efficiency also has a major role to play.
What should the federal spending portfolio of a climate change industrial
policy look like? Let's begin with the (extremely poor) baseline of our current
climate change budget. As described by the George W Bush administration's
Office of Management and Budget, it has four parts:
Technology Program: $3.9 billion
Science Program: $1.8 billion
Energy Tax Provisions: $1.4 billion
International Assistance: $188 million
The necessary changes to this budget, in broad outline, are no-brainers. First
of all, this funding needs to be drastically expanded. The possible exception
may be climate science. We may be spending about the right amount to study the
problem, as opposed to solving it.
The relative proportions among the elements of this budget also need to be
changed. If we are going to avert climate disaster, we'll need technological
breakthroughs - for better battery storage, for example, and more efficient,
cost-effective solar, wind, and geothermal energy generation and transmission.
Between fiscal 2007 and fiscal 2008, the Bush administration actually cut $175
million, or about 12%, out of its core budget for research and development of
new energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies. But waiting for
breakthroughs "just around the corner" cannot be an excuse for failing to move
forward with the technology we have.
Tax incentives for efficiency and renewables need to be a much higher priority.
Among current federal expenditures, the most direct means of reducing emissions
is by changing the incentive structure for private investment, through tax
changes. The administration has actually proposed cutting the modest collection
of credits encouraging, for example, businesses to install fuel cell power
plants, contractors to construct energy-efficient homes, and homeowners to
improve the efficiency of the homes they own and the appliances they buy.
What is missing
Here are a few missing pieces from a new climate change industrial policy. The
federal retraining system must prioritize "green job" retraining. The United
States also needs to invest in major, new clean infrastructure. This involves
not just developing new transportation technologies but spending federal
dollars to upgrade and subsidize mass transit to reduce emissions. Federal
purchasing can help catalyze markets. States have been way out front of the
federal government in scaling up the market for electric vehicles, for example,
by buying these vehicles for their own transportation fleets.
The United States also needs expansion of the existing [government-backed]
Manufacturing Extension network of service providers to provide technical
assistance to reduce emissions. This national network of centers, analogous to
the Agricultural Extension network, has been ramped down during the Bush years.
Now it needs to be ramped back up, with a strengthened emphasis on assistance
for retooling for clean manufacturing and energy conservation, and connected to
a state network of green-job retraining programs.
All of the elements of this new industrial policy will need to be coordinated
by a climate change czar in the White House. That person's job will be to make
sure the pieces fit together. The climate change czar would link public
investment to job retraining to technical assistance to new sources of finance
for enterprise development, and pull together the various state initiatives
into a coherent framework.
And where's the money going to come from? In pivoting their forces to meet the
new threat on their flank, the generals have to release funds for this fight
against climate change. New submarines canít be used to fight terrorism - or
climate change. It's time to change our budget priorities accordingly, and
create a new climate industrial complex.
Miriam Pemberton is peace and security editor for Foreign Policy In
Focus. She is the author of the January 2008 report, "The Budgets Compared:
Military vs Climate Security."