The world's nations will gather in Copenhagen, Denmark, this December to negotiate a landmark agreement to prevent full-blown climate change. If they fail, large landmasses around the world will be vulnerable to weather extremes, droughts, flooding, food insecurity, spreading disease vectors, and sea-level rise.
The world's nations will gather in Copenhagen, Denmark, this December to negotiate a landmark agreement to prevent full-blown climate change. If they fail, large landmasses around the world will be vulnerable to weather extremes, droughts, flooding, food insecurity, spreading disease vectors, and sea-level rise. The U.S. military, among others, has begun to see these effects as not merely a massive human and planetary tragedy, but a major potential cause of increased violent conflict.
The United States, as the largest emitter of greenhouse gases historically, will have to make a serious commitment if the Copenhagen conference is to succeed. The U.S. government's most important tool for reducing emissions is to set clear limits on them. Congress is in the throes of debating a comprehensive framework for doing so, in the shape of the American Clean Energy and Security Act. A second tool is money, including investments in R&D for new clean energy technologies as well as in such measures as clean public transportation infrastructure and tax incentives that leverage private emission-reducing expenditures.
In January 2008, I compared the amount that the Bush administration had allocated that year for addressing climate change with what it was spending on military security. The answer was startling: the United States spends $88 on its military forces for every dollar spent on averting climate catastrophe.
The Obama administration has improved substantially on this record. But it hasn't closed the gap by reducing military spending. The new Administration's base military budget is in fact $20 billion larger than the previous Bush budget, which was itself unprecedentedly large. To make up the difference, the Obama administration decided to invest more in climate programs than its predecessor.
A measure of how much more isn't readily available. Expenditures on climate change are sprinkled throughout many government departments-including the Departments of Interior, Commerce, Agriculture, Transportation, State, Treasury, and Energy; the Environmental Protection Agency; and NASA. In addition, some programs are partially rather than wholly devoted to this mission.
Midway through the Bush administration's tenure, the U.S. Congress began requiring the Office of Management and Budget to produce a report [PDF] of the total climate change allocation in the President's proposed budget. This requirement ended last year, however, and the Obama administration has not yet produced a comprehensive accounting of its own.
In a new report released on July 28, titled Military vs. Climate Security: Mapping the Transition from the Bush Years to the Obama Era, I take a first cut at this task. The Obama administration has allocated $10.6 billion to climate-related programs in the regular FY2010 budget and an additional $68 billion through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), the economic stimulus program passed in February 2009. Thus, 87 percent of the administration's climate change expenditures have come from ARRA.
And therein lies the problem. The Recovery Act, so far as we know, is a one-time appropriation. Emergency economic stimulus funding is not a sustainable vehicle for creating a stable climate. Expenditures to support the expansion of renewable sources of energy, creating a "smart grid," developing a high-speed rail network, training workers for green jobs, and so on must be incorporated into regular annual appropriations.
This year, they haven't been. The extra $3 billion in climate change expenditures added by the Obama administration's first regular budget reduces the FY2008 gap in military versus climate spending only slightly, from 88:1 to 65:1. The $68 billion added by the Recovery Act, meanwhile, reduces that proportion to 9:1.
This change will make the balance of our security resources more consistent with the relative magnitudes of the threats we face. It will also create more jobs than the current balance. Among the reasons: whereas military production jobs are wholly financed by public expenditures, federal climate dollars, plus appropriate regulations, can mobilize and leverage additional private dollars - and thus create a greater number of jobs. More bang for the federal buck.
In accepting the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, former U.S. Vice President Al Gore said that the world's nations will need to mobilize against climate disaster "with the urgency and resolve that has previously been seen only when nations mobilized for war." China has now overtaken the United States as the single largest emitter of greenhouse gases. Both nations are pivotal in the fight against climate change. Future generations may judge them not by their military prowess, but by how well they responded to the challenge laid out by Gore.
The United States outspends China militarily almost nine-fold. But in other matters, China now appears to have the edge by soaring past the United States in such developments as wind and solar energy production or vehicle fuel efficiency. Future security will be found less in mobilizing for war than in stabilizing the climate. Government budgets in the United States and China-and around the planet-need to reflect this fact.
This article was reproduced with the kind permission of Worldwatch Institute.