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Green markets or gun markets

David Watson from Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) writes on weapons, wars and climate change for Blog Action Day on Climate Change – 15 October 2009.

On 14 October, BBC’s Newsnight asked the question “Can you be green and capitalist?”

Simon Retallack, associate director at the centre-left think tank, the Institute for Public Policy Research, was asked how best to fight climate change. He rejected an approach based on changing people’s values, saying: “I worry that the [anti-consumerist] approach gets in the way of putting in place some consumerist approaches to solving some of these problems that doesn’t (sic) entail trying to engineer changing people’s values.”

The interviewer didn’t ask Retallack if not changing our values meant we could continue to support wars and military occupations in strategically important locations.

Neither did he offer an opinion on whether this meant that the UK and the US could carry on spending so much of their stretched budgets subsidising their arms industries. Subsidising the arms industry, perpetrating wars and (in the USA) allowing liberal personal ownership of small arms are all totally incompatible, not only with the ethics espoused by our leaders, but are deeply damaging the fight against climate change.

We should at least mention the astronomical waste of financial resources that could be used in providing real security for everyone. Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel Laureate in economics, says that a conservative estimate of the cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars would be $3 trillion. And that is only the sum for the USA.

Although we know how many of our own armed forces have died in Iraq (179 UK troops and 4,331 US troops) and Afghanistan (221 and 796 to date), we have no idea how many of the indigenous people in those countries have died. Rather than spending all this money paying our armies to destroy these countries, could we not have spent money on developing technology for renewable energy?

Some may dismiss such pleas as facile, but they are not looking at the real long-term picture. Our resources on this planet are finite, and as we needlessly spend energy and resources manufacturing arms and killing people (mostly in their own countries), we are exhausting those resources while the arms manufacturers laugh their way to the bank.

Enormous resources are spent manufacturing weapons that can destroy bridges, power stations and other types of infrastructure. We know that lucrative contracts are given out (usually to Western firms), to rebuild the countries once they have a “co-operative government” in place. Nobody counts the carbon cost of these rebuilding projects either.

Meanwhile at home, governments are all ears to the pathetic pleas of arms manufactuers for more subsidies. Government-backed insurance, government-sponsored R&D and generous military procurement policies – all underwritten by hard-pressed taxpayers. United Kingdom Trade & Investment (UKTI) even has a separate department, the invidiously titled Defence & Security Organisation (DSO) whose sole purpose is to promote British arms exports.

It would seem, however, that our governments’ own advisers also agree that our leaders have a warped sense of priorities. Sir David King, the government’s own adviser on scientific matters until 2008, was explicit in the threat posed by climate change, and so too, even more remarkably, was the Pentagon, who have predicted a state of anarchy if something is not done to stop it.

On the Newsnight programme, the Conservative party’s Zak Goldsmith declared: “the market is absolutely fundamental, I don’t think you can have a solution that doesn’t involve the market.”

Newsnight’s presenter, Emily Maitlis, neglected to ask him if he supported the Conservative party’s recent proclamation that they will give the UK arms industry more support.

If the Pentagon is correct in its predictions and our leaders fail to take the necessary measures to preserve the planet, a hundred years from now, our great-grandchildren may be asking not what terrorism is, but what markets were.

2 comments to Green markets or gun markets

  • Art

    Interesting also that the wars which British arms exports facilitate (and arguably provoke) are often fought if not for the direct control and exploitation of oil and gas fields, then certainly for greater access to them, and the power to their market price. The trade in weapons of death – and the slow burn destruction of the planet – are intimately linked.

  • Chris

    Very interesting thoughts, David. One is, I suppose inevitably compelled to ask just what cost the maintenance of a supposedly ‘green’ planet will come to – and with ignorance of global issues seeming to insidiously persevere amongst a new generation of willfull young proletariats (or so Britain’s papers would have us beleive) devouring our resources without a care for restitution, everything is dwindling.
    Of course the decline will lead to wars, because humans are territorial creatures, and one forsees a disturbing future, owing to current fashions, in which people are murdered for water and food.

    Still, one hopes that there is yet salvation – capitalist ideology ostensibly seems irreconcilable with the ultimately collectivist mindset that climate protection advocates, and it exists in every niche of our society. Dell computers for example, are proud to trumpet that their latest model is designed to reduce its Co2, yet they have all the latest million-dollar defence contracts firmly in their hands, proclaiming both facts with equal merit on their website – and as a consumerist, I find myself using their products out of necessity to cope with workloads and live what is apparently quite a self-oriented life, as do we all in the West, it seems.

    It would seem that what people have some difficulty with is allying themselves with the notion that alteration to their capatalist approach is not necessarily a means of dispensing with it and suddenly – and rather ridiculously – embracing socialism. Surely one might account for their actions in the world and retain a sense of responsibility even as they gain capital in their society? It would seem that since the post-war generation, we have incrementally divested ourselves of the idea of personal responsibility for our actions and would rather seek anyone else to blame – so that even as our own wasteful squandering of resources stares us in the face, we point the finger and invade some other country to cry “their fault” under a flimsy pretext. One still mulls over the profound coincidence of America’s playing ‘hero’ and the acronymic significance of ‘Operation Iraqi Liberation’, to give an example.

    All of our resurgent Malthusian worries about over population and the destruction of the earth are ultimately territorial concerns – as we are encroached upon and invaded, however we may perceive it, we lose and conquer territory, just as we always did – yet the great fault in this mindset now is that territory is becoming less and less useful to us, dwindling in resourceful value as everything is devoured and used. One can only shudder at the thought of a world in which there exists nothing for too many – ironically, perhaps it will be then that a sense of responsibility and care is finally regained too late.

    It seems, as I see it, that since none will so easily divest themselves of the cornerstone of Western socio-economic ideology, then we must reconcile our notions of capatalism somehow, with the capacity for a mutual, human concern for the future, to take personal account of our actions and accept the consequences of them, however grisly that may temporarily be to us. It appears to be the only viable way, and yet with companies like Dell wallowing in hypocrisy, a long way off.

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