Capitalism drives war, and they both fuel climate change by Steve Rushton

Tackling climate change is about making personal decisions to reduce your carbon footprint, trains not planes for instance, but this is not the whole story. Carbon emissions link directly to the capitalist system, and responsibilities differentiate greatly. We need system change or face climate change. The largest culprits are the 1%. It is down to those that profit from oil companies, carbon intense mining and extractive industries; responsibility lies with the finance industry that invests in new dirty energy projects, in big agriculture, the aviation industry and other industries with a vested interest in business as usual continuing. A green revolution requires removing the power (and wealth) from the 1%.

Yet, one thing is often missing from the climate change discourse: the war machine. The International Panel on Climate Change does not even count all military climate emissions within their targets. The IPCC of course is the international institution tasked with solving the escalating climate catastrophe. And war emissions are significant. For instance, the US military is single biggest user of fossil fuels in the whole world. During the Iraq War alone an estimated 250–600 million tonnes of CO2e was used, in comparison, the UK uses just over the top end of this amount each year.

Thinking on the lines of people reducing their own emissions, it would be odd to think that military personnel ever take serious measures to reduce their own carbon bootprint. Combat pilots probably don’t ever fly their jet fighters with economic consideration, tank drivers are unlikely to minimise journeys, and when naval sailors are given orders they probably do not think whether this the most ecological thing to do. This is for obvious reasons: military life is geared to avoiding death for your side and killing others. The ethos of war is about being the fastest, largest and most powerful.

War therefore is not only an unnecessary tragedy of human suffering that kills one person every minute, 90% of whom are civilians. At its core the military machine has an absolute disregard for the environment, which suggests the climate movement dovetails with the anti-arms and peace movements.

War and military power have always aided big business. The East Indian Company ruled India before British colonial rule with an army of 200,000, a greater number than many states. Today history repeats itself. More often, war is waged by private firms such as G4S with oil companies and other corporations buying their own armies.

Dwight Eisenhower forewarned how the business of war was growing to dominate the post-World War II capitalist system. In his farewell address as US President he asserted that the military industrial complex – meaning the arms manufacturers and military – had a vested interest in lobbying for more wars.

Today’s reality appears beyond Eisenhower’s nightmare, business as usual relies on a military industrial complex to remain in perpetual motion. It is worth noting Britain has not known peace for 100 years. And that the oil industry is central to capitalism and intertwined with war: over half military conflicts since 1973 are said to be motivated by petro-interests. US military policy discussions assert oil will be a central motivation for war throughout the 21st Century. Today the revolving door between the government, military, arms industry and oil industries spins so quickly they could all be considered part of the military industrial complex. With the corporate press majority owned by a handful of billionaires, this too could be considered another wing of the military industrial complex.

Wars create profit opportunities for various corporations. After the NATO bombing and regime change in Libya British Defence Secretary Philip Hammond candidly said: “Libya is a relatively wealthy country with oil reserves, and I expect there will be opportunities for British and, indeed, other companies to get involved in the reconstruction.”

Following its support of the NATO-led mission, Britain sent a trade mission, headed by Lord Marland, a UK trade envoy who also has a broad portfolio of financial interests including insurance, property and investments. Marland’s role on behalf of the British Government was to secure contracts, he went with business leaders involved in arms, construction, oil and health companies.

The notion of bombing a country only to then earn money rebuilding it, seems like a scene from Joseph Heller’s novel Catch-22, about the obscene paradoxes of war. Taking an overview of the relationship between the war machine and climate change, we move from Heller to the Orwellian.

The war machine takes a lot of fossil fuels in its role to secure more fossil fuels. In political terms securing oil is euphemistically called securing our ‘national interests.’ In reality continuing our dependency on fossil fuels runs against almost every person’s interests, with the exception of the owners of big oil, big finance and the few who profit from the war businesses. The decision to invade Iraq provides a perfect example. It is widely acknowledged that it was waged due to lobbying by handful of billionaires, whilst millions took to the streets in protest.

There is another Orwellian point about those profiting from war; 72% of global weapons are produced by the five permanent members on the UN Security Council.

The war machine has other self-perpetuating mechanisms linking oil to arms. Often the worst thing for a country in the Global South is discovering an abundance of raw materials, particularly fossil fuels, at least for the majority of its population; Nigeria, Saudi Arabia and Kazakhstan showcase this point. Broadly speaking oil can enable dictators to arise; their governments have a steady supply of money, circumventing the need to rely on tax revenues, so they can continue in luxury and brutally suppress their population. This downward spiral has almost without exceptions been encouraged by the oil hungry military industrial complex, fronted by Western politicians. It may be surprising to many that even ISIS has been able to integrate itself into the global capitalist economy. It is more broadly recognised that Britain sells Israelweapons, despite its long history of human rights violations, in large part to assist in dominating the region’s oil.

The Western states’ willingness to trade oil for weapons only encourages dictators further. On the export sides, the Western states uses weapons and security to fund the oil purchases, to reclaim some of the ‘Petro-dollars’. This whole process explains why so many despotic regimes find themselves the darlings of Western powers.

Saudi Arabia is one key example; historically, it is the world’s largest oil exporter. Its brutal regime publically stones women and will torture and kill its citizens. Nevertheless the UK alone sold £1.6 billion of arms each year to the country. Its friendship with the British establishment was again cemented in January this year when Saudi King Abdullah died. Subsequently, PM David Cameron was criticised for responding about his sadness at the death.

With Orwellian undertones, Cameron continued: “I sincerely hope that the long and deep ties between our two kingdoms will continue and that we can continue to work together to strengthen peace and prosperity in the world.”

Cameron, Prince Charles and Barack Obama all personally paid their respects after King Abdullah’s death, but there is one event that cements the UK’s relationship as one of the world’s arm dealers in chief even further. This is the biennial DSEi arms fair held in London Dockland’s massive ExCel Centre. Co-organised by the UK government, it is the largest arms fair in the world.

“DSEi provides a good opportunity for us to showcase our latest equipment, meet international partners and enhance our already strong relationships.” Said Philip Dunne MP, Minister of State for Defence Procurement. He is one of at least two cabinet ministers who will be speaking at the 2015 event.

Judging by previous DSEi guest-list these ‘international partners’ include a who’s who of oil rich despotic human rights abusing regimes. On 2013, the UK government invited 14 authoritarian regimes, 9 countries identified by the UK Foreign Office with “the most serious wide-ranging human rights concerns” and 6 countries at war the previous year.

The UK government’s support for the global business is encapsulated by DSEi. Every year, sellers are caught selling weapons banned by international conventions, such as torture equipment (e.g. in 2013, 2011, 2007and 2005) and weapons banned by international law (e.g. in 2011, 2009 & 2007). And while these violations go unpunished, the UK state spends millions in policing the event to prevent protesters halting the illegal and immoral arms sales.

The underlying current behind DSEi is that the British government will support the business of death, war and security without questions. When you consider the interconnected relationship between arms for fossil fuels, it explains why the government seem so obsessed with pushing arms. Reciprocally, it suggests that the climate movement needs to galvanise even closer with the anti-war activists. Shutting down DSEi would be a massive step towards challenging the arms industry and creating a system beyond fossil fuels.

Shutting down the war business would not only stop the immeasurable suffering for both people and planet. The human energy and endeavour that goes into war could be transformed into socially useful progressive projects.

Instead of selling death, the ExCeL Centre could host a renewables community energy fair. Rather than pumping money into weapons, trident and war, the UK government could use this money to create 1 million climate jobs. In turn, the scientific expertise in building weapons – just like the expertise from the oil industry – could easily be redirected to make renewables. A positive climate future is not that difficult to imagine: but to reach it we need to shut down the business of war.

About the writer – Steve Rushton writes for (US), Debt Resitance UK and has blogged for media platforms including the New Internationalist, Bella Caledonia and the NGO Global Justice Now (formerly World Development Movement). He is interested in many global social justice issues and exploring alternatives; before moving to London and being involved in activism and journalism, he undertook research into the threat of the globalised capitalist world on the indigenous people of Vietnam’s Central Highlands

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