Three days into the new decade President Trump ordered the assassination of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani. It was a sharp reminder of how suddenly nations can be brought to the brink of war. 

Climate activists need to consider that wars and our militaries’ arsenals are possibly an even greater threat to a livable world than the accelerating climate crisis. As just one example, even during peacetime, the US military uses more oil than any other institution in the world.

But more importantly, the US military budget is bloated beyond all reason, and the Pentagon regularly receives billions more than they even asked for. Instead of a peace dividend after the fall of the Soviet Union, the unconscionable waste is further spiraling out of control, spurred by a self-serving military-industrial complex that would make President Eisenhower spin in his grave.

Conversely: Let’s imagine how fast we could decarbonize industry, turn energy production renewable, and electrify not just transportation but everything if a sizable portion of our over one trillion dollars in “defense” expenses flowed into that urgently needed transition! Instead of being the world’s biggest arms exporter the US could become a true world leader by funding these pathways, developing cutting edge technology and reaping the rewards from exporting renewable energy products and know-how.

However, when war comes (or is willfully dragged onto the stage) any gains on the energy transition and carbon reduction front will be instantly erased. Even if hostilities only take the form of sanctions, countries like Iran are prevented from investing in and importing solar and wind technology. Ironically, with enough renewable energy production Iran could potentially be persuaded to give up its nuclear reactors and erase suspicion over possible nuclear weapons.

Sadly, it gets worse: In what I consider the ultimate crime against humanity and all species (excluding cockroaches), the US and Russia still keep thousands of nuclear warheads on hair-trigger alert, liable to be accidentally unleashed. With great luck, we averted disaster aborting nuclear launches in dozens of false alarms and precarious political crises – so far. Similarly, the festering tensions between the nuclear states India and Pakistan could erupt, triggering worldwide fallout and nuclear winter. 

Let’s face reality: Our efforts to avert a climate catastrophe may at any moment be cut short by global annihilation.

I contend that climate activists need to also be peace activists. We need to protest wars, must not be blinded by nationalistic ideologies that lead to war, and work towards redirecting national treasure from the military to a fast climate and energy transition. This year in particular, we need to vote for sane politicians, support humane party platforms, and keep psychopaths out of positions of power.

Martin Voelker

A Post Script:

I came across an article by Princeton peace and nuclear policy researcher Zia Mian which led me to create the crude matrix below. Zia Mian wrote in 2019

The future of civilization depends on the unpredictable psychologies of the people commanding the U.S., Russian, United Kingdom, French, Chinese, Israeli, Indian, Pakistani and North Korean nuclear weapons.