War Sustains Climate Insecurity

Demonstrators highlighted the enormous and negative impact of the U.S. military during the 2014 People's Climate March in New York City. (Photo: Stephen Melkisethian/flickr/cc)

By Caroline Hurley, World BEYOND War Ireland Chapter, April 13, 2024

This is an extended version of an article first published by ZNetwork.

If a pacifist humanity was forced to wreck the planet and cause climate change, it would invent war. Since every aspect of military activity is by definition destructive, war is never harmless, particularly at a time when millions are dying because of climate disruptions. [1]

Scholars warn that instead of providing security, arms accumulation, especially absent scrutiny and debate, actually poses threats to democratic principles, mainly from opportunity costs (e.g. many materials used for arms components are essential for renewable energy technologies), politics’ closer relationships with a corrupt arms industry, and more reliance on dubious arms export customers. [2]  A recent Tufts discussion paper noted that, “while governments prioritize security, the benefits of these arms investments, albeit marginal or questionable in themselves, often fail to reach the general population, leading to heightened human insecurity. This can include socio-economic challenges related to education, healthcare, and poverty, as well as other systemic issues likely to affect human security across the board, not least of which is global warming,”  [3]

A more appropriate security paradigm would shift from military buildup to climate adaptation and mediation, and from interests of the state to those of people and planet. One foreign policy option suggested involves intersectional environmentalism which would facilitate social goods including energy democracy, food sovereignty, and just, sustainable transitions. Otherwise, what, and who, are governments for?

Armament or Environment

Just as the urgent need to stem climate chaos is being universally recognised, the renewed emphasis on armed state violence, packaged as security, is immeasurably counterproductive to survival goals. [4] Perversely, environmental protectors are the ones being criminalised. [5]

All climate records were broken in 2023. [6] Greenland ice is melting at the same rate per hour it used to melt per day, creating a vicious cycle as cooler freshwater forces warmer saltier water under ice sheets, speeding up melting and warming rates. [7] This symbolises advancing hazards, among which war looms large. [8] High-carbon, high-tech weapons make killing easier, by dehumanisation. [9] One bomb now can do what a day’s bombing did 30 years ago, a week’s 60 years ago, and so on.

A Conflict and Environment Observatory (CEOBS) report on environmental impacts of the Ukraine war covers industrial and energy infrastructure, nuclear facilities and other radioactive sources, built environment, rural environment, freshwater resources and infrastructure, coastal and marine environment; global climate; national climate objectives; and evolving legal and regulatory frameworks. [10] War ravages everything. [11]

The graph above illustrates consequences of past choices that foreclosed better possibilities for the world and the common good. Decisions instead facilitated climate-polluting high-profit industries — fossil fuels, agribusiness and timber. [12] Big Oil knew how its business harmed climate from research in the 1950s. [13] Lobbyists continue to capture and sabotage the COPs and IPCC. [14] No lull in World War III — against the planet — is allowed. [15]

Methane can trap 100 times more atmospheric heat than CO2, and accounts for up to 30% of observed global warming. [16] Curtailing methane is the easier faster solution. Sadly, Sweden reported a 7% rise in emissions after Nord Stream pipe vandalism. [17] A 2024 report on climate agreement progress by YaleEnvironment360 confirms widespread cheating, under-counting, non-compliance, and non-enforcement, as global CO2 skyrockets. [18] While all sectors are guilty of reporting errors, militarism stands out, having managed to gain exemption from key environmental standards under the Kyoto Protocol and Paris Agreement on grounds of ‘national security’. The symbiosis between militarism and rare earth resources, especially oil, is so overwhelming that foreign military intervention in civil wars correlates significantly less with human rights violations, lack of democracy, or threats of terrorism, than with oil presence, often enforcing conditions required for corporate environmental destruction and resource exploitation. The US Defense Department is a top global polluter, the world’s largest institutional oil consumer, and largest landholder with at least 800 foreign military bases in 80 countries, which are usually transformed into Superfund-like toxic sites with contaminated land and water, before war is ever waged. [19]

Impacts spread. Aggressors are not immune. Especially with modern hi-tech, hi-energy and super-potent weaponry, war exacerbates insecurities, of climate, people and all living beings. Instead of working to outlaw war, “the U.S. military is increasingly integrating itself into the commercial sphere, blurring the lines between civilian and war-fighter. On Jan 12, 2024, the Department of Defense released its first National Defense Industrial Strategy. The document outlines plans to shape supply chains, the workforce, domestic advanced manufacturing, and international economic policy around the expectation of war between the U.S. and “peer or near-peer competitors” like China and Russia. Tech companies are ready to jump on the bandwagon – just days before the release of the document, OpenAI edited the usage policy for its services like ChatGPT, deleting its ban on military use.” [20] Choices world powers make are influential, triggering arms races.

US-UK research shows that emissions generated in the first two months of the Gaza bombardment surpassed the annual carbon footprint of more than 20 of the world’s most climate-vulnerable countries. Accepted as an under-estimate for excluding methane and other planet-heating gases, the calculation included CO2 from aircraft missions, tanks and fuel from other vehicles, as well as emissions generated by making and exploding bombs, artillery and rockets. US cargo planes flying military supplies to Israel are responsible for almost half the total CO2 emissions. [21] Comprehensive emissions tracking is only just beginning. [22]

War is a major contributor to the climate crisis. [23] Veterans for Peace’s Climate Crisis and Militarism Project highlights war’s many devastations and calls for change. [24] Policy commitments to arms trade growth create obstacles. [25] Armies’ suspicious privilege to avoid reporting astronomical emissions is unacceptable. [26] Obscuring true scale makes demands for bigger defence budgets easier to make. [27] Enemies’ evilness is clung to as justification for maintaining warfare and nuclear development, obviating negotiation. [28]  But investors’ calls for transparency help spur mandatory disclosures. [29] Obstructing cooperation on climate solutions, and diverting funding and energies needed for environmental protection, war ruthlessly sabotages climate mitigation efforts. [30]

According to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED), conflict increased by 12% from 2022 to 2023, and by 40% since 2020, affecting one in six people. Conflict was reported in 168 of 234 countries in 2023. Over 147,000 conflict events on record resulted in at least 167,800 fatalities. [31] Brown University’s Cost of Wars Project counts war victims, not forgetting over 38 million refugees displaced by these conflicts. [32]

War Is Good For Genocide, Ecocide, Urbicide, Domicide

With the destruction of buildings, workplaces, homes, service and cultural centres, even towns and cities, war ruins neighbourhoods – urbicide – and homes – domicide. [33]  By March 2024, over half of all buildings in Gaza were damaged or destroyed, symptomatic of genocide. [34] At least 23 million tonnes of debris and ordnances are left, requiring lengthy clean-up, according to the UN, and retarding climate goals [35] Ecocide is widely evident. [36] Lost homes, lost lives, lost identities. [37]

Bombing and arson also destroyed a third of Syria’s housing stock and a quarter of its forest cover. [38] Western backed wars and ecological devastation have displaced 10 million people in the Democratic Republic of Congo.[39] This cruelty is deliberate in modern war. [40] Militarism and the climate crisis are “deeply intertwined and mutually reinforcing”. [41] Except to profit select sectors such as munitions, politicians’ protestations about endless war being good for the economy is a fallacy [42]

The construction industry generates over a third of global carbon emissions, and leads in waste production. [43] Embodied emissions arising from making materials such as steel, cement, bricks, glass, aluminium and plastics, which comprise buildings, figure increasingly in overall climate impacts. [44] & [45] These materials, essential for renewable energy technologies too, are becoming scarce. For example, only by reducing demand, and recycling scrap metal, in electric arc versus coal blast furnaces to lower emissions, will enough steel continue to be available. [46] Rebuilding after demolishing doubles emissions, as both the original building and also its replacement must be counted. [47] This is exactly what war compels. Even architects are switching to re-using buildings, with and for people. [48]

Targeting land fertility, crops, and infrastructure, war ensures enduring barrenness and pollution.[49] Fires and rent materials release heat, throwing ecosystems into chaos. [50]  Exposure to fine particulate matter already kills more than a million people annually. [51] Forever PFA chemicals common on military sites and elsewhere enter water supplies. [52] Fires from bombing burn plastics, foams, textiles, carpets, human and animal corpses, wood products (treated lumber, plywood, flooring), asbestos, lead, paint, synthetic fabrics, electronics, furniture, household chemicals, and more, polluting the air. Contamination exposure is associated with significant increases in lethal diseases including respiratory ailments, cardiac hazards, and cancers. [53] Carcinogenic-degree radiation is more common than realised.[54] Even citizens harmed by toxic waste in peacetime are brushed off, only to discover environmental protection exists in name only. [55]

Such major harms may soon be sueable as ecocide under international law. [56] The UN is progressing rules for environmental assistance and recovery in conflict. [57]  In parallel, allowing climate change to worsen unchecked imposes a growing burden of disease. [58] NASA tracks the relentless rise of heat-trapping CO2. [59] As oceans also heat up, they no longer absorb atmospheric excess. [60] US Army reports admitted the military would not be spared disruption. [61] & [62]  Yet leaders still talk up war expansion, neglecting peace diplomacy suited for addressing conflicts and climate incidents. [63] How sexualised this power play is does not go unnoticed either. [64] To grow and stay relevant, war organisations create ‘ecosystem’ conditions of instability and conflict. [65]

Preparing for Handover

The Doomsday clock warns of extreme nuclear and climate dangers. [66] Change is resisted partly because decarbonisation challenges GDP growth. [67] Global industrialists and financiers are being permitted to consign the rest of humanity to ecocide. [68] Eroded human services abet intolerable poverty, exploitation and sickness. [69]  Foundations for living are let slump into neglect and depravity. [70]

The EU has just passed a new ecocide Directive, as yet too timid. [71] It comes after a nascent EU Nature Restoration Law. [72] More regulatory conditionality in industrial policy would ensure that government subsidies were invested in social infrastructure rather than being siphoned off in private profits through dividends or share buybacks. A payout distribution cap could restrict wealth extraction from public services. [73] Limiting obscene CEO salaries is regularly recommended. [74] Worker initiatives to ‘green’ production and oppose malpractice drive real improvement especially when supported  [75] Reviving and prioritising the welfare state would afford citizens protection from imminent polycrisis risks. [76]

15,000 scientists update their State of the Climate Report every year, warning of massive natural and socioeconomic collapse. [77]  Turbulence increases nuclear risks, only manageable through “dialogue, social participation, and pragmatic leaders who can listen to science, make bold decisions, and enact and implement constructive policies.” [78] Another worldwide network of Scientists Against War and the Destructive Use of Science has just been launched. [79] The papal encyclical Laudate Si, has been adapted into a movement. [80] Islamic scholars have drafted A Covenant For the Earth. [81]

Given central authority failures, civil society activism is critical for altered outcomes.[82] The Make Rojava Green Again movement shares experience: “The ecological crisis and the increase of global conflicts, often for the sake of natural resources and their exploitation, are showing more every day how solutions cannot be found either in state politics or in technology alone. Especially in times and areas of conflict, the social-ecological problems tend to be seen as of secondary importance. Opposite to this approach, the attempts made by the autonomous administration emphasize how, even in times of attacks, social-ecology can represent an answer for both problems. As we witness, against wars and environmental destruction, social-ecological models, self-sustainability and decentralization can really constitute a solution for a lasting peace in the region.” [83]

Society’s rulers may dice with populations’ lives, as conveyed by sick statements such as, “if we want peace, we must prepare for war.” [84] The appetite generally for fighting wars is waning [85]  Somehow, those who see the links and yearn for a safe clean cooperative world need to find ways to communicate and have their voices heard because, as David Boyd, the UN special rapporteur for human rights and the environment, said: “Armed conflict pushes humanity even closer to the precipice of climate catastrophe, and is an idiotic way to spend our shrinking carbon budget.” [86]


[1] https://grist.org/health/climate-change-has-killed-4-million-people-since-2000-and-thats-an-underestimate/

[2] https://corruption-tracker.org/blog/increased-armament-is-dangerous-for-democracy

[3] https://sites.tufts.edu/wpf/files/2024/03/Opportunity-cost-arms-trade-North-America-Europe-and-MENA-final.pdf

[4] https://www.counterpunch.org/2024/01/31/solving-climate-change-or-else/

[5] https://insideclimatenews.org/news/03032024/un-official-state-repression-of-environmental-defenders-threatens-democracy/

[6] https://wmo.int/media/news/climate-change-indicators-reached-record-levels-2023-wmo

[7] https://www.counterpunch.org/2024/03/15/greenland-cascading-30-million-tons-per-hour/

[8] https://www.pressenza.com/2024/02/is-khaki-the-new-green/

[9] https://www.transcend.org/tms/2024/03/so-theyre-experimenting-with-military-robots-in-gaza-now/

[10] https://ceobs.org/the-environmental-consequences-of-the-war-against-ukraine-preliminary-12-month-assessment-summary-and-recommendations/

[11] https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2024/jan/09/emission-from-war-military-gaza-ukraine-climate-change

[12] https://theraven.substack.com/p/in-a-world-of-troubles-confronting?publication=

[13] https://www.desmog.com/2024/01/30/fossil-fuel-industry-sponsored-climate-science-1954-keeling-api-wspa/

[14] https://www.jonathonporritt.com/from-cop-28-to-cop-29-the-road-to-hell/

[15] https://www.counterpunch.org/2024/03/27/a-slow-motion-world-war-iii/

[16] https://www.onegreenplanet.org/animalsandnature/methane-vs-carbon-dioxide-a-greenhouse-gas-showdown/

[17] https://edition.cnn.com/2023/12/14/climate/sweden-methane-nord-stream-pipeline-climate/index.html

[18] https://www.counterpunch.org/2024/03/25/climate-agreements-suck/

[19] https://worldbeyondwar.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/EN-Fact-Sheet-War-Threatens-the-Environment-4.pdf

[20] https://worldbeyondwar.org/environment/

[21] https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2024/jan/09/first-thing-israel-war-gaza-immense-effect-climate-catastrophe

[22] https://ceobs.org/ticking-boxes-are-military-climate-mitigation-strategies-fit-for-purpose/

[23] https://www.instagram.com/reel/C3I0E_CJ6-t/

[24] https://www.veteransforpeace.org/take-action/climatecrisis

[25] https://responsiblestatecraft.org/biden-war-strategy/

[26] https://ceobs.org/does-reporting-military-emissions-data-really-threaten-national-security/

[27] https://www.against-inhumanity.org/2023/12/08/beyond-the-green-tanks/

[28] https://www.pressenza.com/2024/03/global-warfare-summit-summons-national-priority/

[29] https://www.ethicalmarkets.com/new-rules-will-force-u-s-firms-to-divulge-their-role-in-warming-the-planet/

[30] https://www.tni.org/en/publication/climate-collateral

[31] https://acleddata.com/conflict-index/

[32] https://tomdispatch.com/the-october-7th-america-has-forgotten/#more

[33] https://www.dezeen.com/2024/03/07/gaza-urbicide-edwin-heathcote-opinion/

[34] https://www.counterpunch.org/2024/02/14/there-is-no-place-for-the-palestinians-of-gaza-to-go/

[35] https://news.un.org/en/story/2024/03/1147616

[36] https://morningstaronline.co.uk/article/israel%E2%80%99s-actions-are-ecocide-well-genocide

[37] https://www.npr.org/2024/02/09/1229625376/domicide-israel-gaza-palestinians

[38] https://grist.org/international/the-war-zone-in-gaza-will-leave-a-legacy-of-hidden-health-risks/

[39] https://znetwork.org/znetarticle/drc-bleeds-conflict-minerals-for-green-growth/

[40] https://www.counterpunch.org/2024/02/28/israels-cruelty-is-by-design-an-interview-with-joshua-frank/

[41] https://ips-dc.org/climate-militarism-primer/

[42] https://www.truthdig.com/articles/biden-touts-lie-that-endless-war-is-good-for-the-economy/

[43] https://asbp.org.uk/events/demolition-to-deconstruction


[45] https://drawdown.org/sectors/buildings

[46] https://solar.lowtechmagazine.com/2024/03/how-to-escape-from-the-iron-age

[47] https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-61580979

[48] https://www.dezeen.com/2024/03/15/david-chipperfield-design-doha-forum-talk/

[49] https://jacobin.com/2024/01/israel-gaza-war-environmental-impact

[50] https://www.rte.ie/news/middle-east/2024/0229/1435211-white-phosphorus-israel/

[51] https://medicalxpress.com/news/2024-03-short-term-exposure-high-air.html

[52] https://insideclimatenews.org/news/26022024/un-chemours-pfas-north-carolina/

[53] https://peaceandplanetnews.org/poisoning-gaza/

[54] https://blog.ucsusa.org/lilly-adams/for-people-who-have-been-poisoned-by-radiation-the-fight-continues-in-2024/

[55] https://www.ethicalmarkets.com/a-florida-neighborhood-says-an-old-factory-made-them-sick-now-developers-want-to-kick-up-toxic-soil/

[56] https://www.truthdig.com/articles/israels-decimation-of-gaza-spurs-efforts-to-make-ecocide-an-international-crime/

[57] https://ceobs.org/unea-6-passes-resolution-on-environmental-assistance-and-recovery-in-areas-affected-by-armed-conflict/

[58] https://earthbound.report/2024/03/19/book-review-fevered-planet-by-john-vidal/

[59] https://climate.nasa.gov/vital-signs/carbon-dioxide/?_hsenc=p2ANqtz-8HpRVv9oVuSCF0VZQsQUZzqFhGtkLyw06Pme5RT0S-5vbMKKeT7887JYALC3WjAsIKVkac

[60] https://www.ethicalmarkets.com/this-chart-of-ocean-temperatures-should-really-scare-you/

[61] https://www.vice.com/en/article/mbmkz8/us-military-could-collapse-within-20-years-due-to-climate-change-report-commissioned-by-pentagon-says

[62] https://climateandsecurity.org/a-security-threat-assessment-of-global-climate-change/

[63] https://www.declassifieduk.org/who-wants-to-bomb-iran/

[64] https://thedisorderofthings.com/2024/03/08/sex-power-play-at-europes-largest-arms-fair/#more-18558

[65] https://www.pressenza.com/2024/01/l-vatikiotis-on-ukraine-the-fate-of-the-war-has-been-decided/

[66] https://www.transcend.org/tms/2024/02/full-speed-ahead-on-the-global-titanic/

[67] https://www.truthdig.com/articles/these-economists-say-you-cant-decouple-emissions-from-growth/

[68] https://systemicdisorder.wordpress.com/2023/12/20/so-long-and-thanks-for-all-the-hamburgers/

[69] https://tomdispatch.com/the-great-unwinding/#more

[70] https://consortiumnews.com/2024/03/20/patrick-lawrence-authorized-atrocities/?eType=EmailBlastContent&eId=b27c4409-fa66-4d93-97d0-d02b9bb652b8

[71] https://grist.org/regulation/eu-ecocide-law-environmental-crime-international/

[72] https://www.rte.ie/news/europe/2024/0227/1434583-nature-restoration-law/

[73] https://www.socialeurope.eu/reset-finance-a-new-financial-agenda-for-the-eu

[74] https://inequality.org/research/a-fresh-approach-to-limiting-ceo-pay-and-saving-our-environment/

[75] https://www.socialeurope.eu/beyond-just-transition-ecology-at-work

[76] https://www.socialeurope.eu/renewing-the-welfare-state-europes-green-trump-card

[77] https://www.counterpunch.org/2024/01/12/the-state-of-capitalisms-climate-system/

[78] https://www.pressenza.com/2024/03/abolishing-nuclear-weapons-a-brake-on-the-climate-crisis/

[79] https://richardfalk.org/2024/03/07/ascientists-form-a-global-anti-war-anti-genocide-network-from-hiroshima-to-gaza/

[80] https://www.laudatosi.org/laudato-si/laudato-si-movement/

[81] https://earthbound.report/2024/03/05/al-mizan-an-islamic-covenant-for-the-earth/



[83] https://www.resilience.org/stories/2024-03-27/we-will-defend-this-life-we-will-resist-on-this-land/?mc_cid=aa4f28c172&mc_eid=59c179f953

[84] https://www.consilium.europa.eu/it/press/press-releases/2024/03/19/if-we-want-peace-we-must-prepare-for-war/

[85] https://www.gallup-international.bg/en/48127/fewer-people-are-willing-to-fight-for-their-country-compared-to-ten-years-ago/

[86] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2024/jan/09/emissions-gaza-israel-hamas-war-climate-change?mc_cid=751d5966dd


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