NICK DEANE. Thoughts on the Schools Strike for the climate.

Mar 20, 2019

NICK DEANE. Thoughts on the Schools Strike for the climate.

Concerns about climate change and the environment cannot be separated from concerns about militarism and war. All military activity is polluting. Climate change increases the likelihood of war. Environmentally damaging activities are, ultimately, protected by armed force. Preparation for war runs in parallel with climate change.

How admirable and how right the school-students are! Climate change is an overwhelmingly significant matter – the full implications of which we are just beginning to imagine. The students are to be thanked for stimulating further thoughts.

Not wanting to diminish the value of the their action, it is worth mentioning that protesting about climate change is probably‘too little, too late’already. Even in the highly unlikely scenario of all fossil-fuel emissions ceasing tomorrow, the ‘lag’in the system would see global warming continue for years to come.

That aside, there are aspects of the matter that seem to have escaped the attention of the students, in particular the relationship between climate change and war. I can see three areas of association.

Firstly, warfare, preparations for war and, indeed, all military activity is highly polluting and highly damaging to the environment. Whether it be the wholesale destruction of landscapes (such as was seen in WW1), the slow decay of sunken shipping (releasing fuel and poisons into the environment), unexploded ordnance and land-mines or any other military activity – the environmental cost is huge. It has been estimated that 10% of all CO2 emissions can be attributed to military activity. The cost of keeping a fighter jet in the air, measured in fuel burned, is enormous. If it could be achieved, the cessation of all military activity would be of enormous benefit in any attempt to reduce CO2 emissions, delay climate change and protect the environment.

The second association arises because the leaders of nations across the globe are not blind to the coming impacts of climate change. What they correctly foresee (and greatly fear) is increased instability. When millions of people find that their lives are no longer sustainable, they will move to another part of the planet. Humankind has done this since it first manged to walk. The movement of millions of people will become an enormous problem for everyone. The instability that will ensue represents a ‘threat’in the eyes of current national leaders. They go on to display an instinctive reaction – to want to protect their nation from the perceived threat of a great mass of potential intruders. This triggers a reflex response – to arm oneself against the possibility of being over-run.

Consequently, what we are witnessing in plain view, right now, is a general ‘arming up’, both within our region and throughout the world. We can see it in the SIPRI figures for expenditure on armaments. We can see it locally in the militarisation of our own Border Force. We can see it in the rise of right-wing political organisations, calling for tougher measures to exclude refugees. As the impacts of climate change are rising, in parallel so is the quantity of weaponry available. It is not that those in power imagine that they can fight off climate change through force of arms – but it might just as well be! If this aspect is not addressed, the likelihood of war as an adjunct to climate change is greatly increased. We stand likely to make the bad effects of climate change worse – by orders of magnitude – if we continue to take up arms, as we are, in this, indirect response.

Thirdly, the students have, I suggest, underestimated the ruthlessness and determination of the entities that currently cause so much environmental destruction. The mining companies, those who extract oil, gas and coal, those who destroy forests and fishing resources for agri-business will continue to pillage the Earth as hard and as fast as they can, so long as they can stop anyone stopping them. In all these activities the protagonists are protected by governments and laws, which are, ultimately, backed up with militarised violence. Witness what happened in the USA at Standing Rock. Witness what may happen to protestors of the Adani Mine as that matter comes to a head. The well-established pattern world-wide is for the environmental damage to go ahead (in the name of economic progress) and for the protestors to be dealt with by the law or, at the very least, manhandled out of the way. In some situations the interests of powerful companies are actively protected by armed guards (effectively private armies). The destroyers that are the target of the school-student protests would not hesitate to deal with them with the full force of the law (or in extremis to open fire on them), if or when they should actually pose a genuine threat to their short-term profits.

So my message in support of the protesting school-students is this:- concern about the environment cannot be separated from concern about war. There is no prospect for an acceptable resolution of the problems that climate change is bringing that does not also involve resolving the world-wide problem of militarism. We could and should live in a world where resources are evenly distributed and there is enough for all. However, as climate change sets in, we can anticipate much worse than floods, fires, famines, droughts, and mass migrations. For if we respond to those threats as we do currently, we will ourselves create an even greater catastrophe for everyone, by adding armed conflict to the scenario. Humankind at large may well inflict much more suffering upon itself than nature. When it comes to climate change, miltarism is an over-arching consideration.

Nick Deane is an ex-public servant with a degree in Sociology. He is on the co-ordinating committee of the Independent and Peaceful Australia Network (IPAN) and convenor of the Marrickville Peace Group.

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