The people’s climate march: exposing the environmental costs of militarism

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On September 21, hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world will take part in the People’s climate march. Organized to put pressure on world leaders attending next Tuesday’s UN climate summit in New York to make meaningful commitments on climate change, it has been billed as ‘the largest environmental march’ in history.

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Coincidentally, September 21 also marks the annual International day of Peace, set by the UN to celebrate the ideals of peace and non-violence. It is clear that a sustainable and peaceful future will not be achieved with one day events or one big march. However, this Sunday presents the opportunity to emphasize the nexus between war and climate change and why it is essential more than ever that we shift our priorities from arms to renewables.

At present, the world’s governments spend the staggering amount of $1.75 trillion a year on the military, more than in any year between WW2 and the Cold War. Such a high and growing expenditure begs the questions: to what end?

The Oxford Research group, which works to promote the concept of a more sustainable security approach, has identified three primary threats to peace in the 21st century: climate change, increasing competition over resources and inequality of wealth. The danger of rising temperatures was also underlined in a recent study by the UK’s Ministry of Defence which called climate change a ‘driver that is so pervasive in nature and influence that it will affect the life of everyone on the planet over the next 30 years’.

One wonders then how more militarisation and investment in arms will help us face these global challenges. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the arms industry views the issue solely in terms of profit and new markets. ‘I think climate change is a real opportunity for the aerospace and defence industry’, said Lord Drayson in 2009, then British Minister of State for Strategic Defence Acquisition Reform. Indeed, different arms companies, including BAE, have developed ‘green’ weapons such as reduced-lead weapons in order to present themselves as environmentally friendly.

However, it is clear, as the recent IPCC report argues, that the only way to mitigate and avoid the disastrous consequence of climate change is a rapid de-carbonisation of electricity generation, not more arms. There is an urgent need for renewables now.

A quick look at statistics shows where the current priorities of the British government lie: spending for Research & Development on arms is 30 times the amount on all renewable energy technologies combined. This is why CAAT will soon be launching an arms to renewable campaign, urging the Government and trade unions to shift their support.

Most importantly, the campaign will respond to arms companies and the government’s standard argument that the arms trade produces a high number of jobs. In reality, jobs in the arms business are stagnant and the sector is set to contract significantly in the coming decades. On the other hand, the renewable sector has huge potential for growth and thousands of new and sustainable jobs could be created if the government used the same resources it spends on arms.


In her new book on capitalism and climate change, ‘This Changes Everything’, Naomi Klein writes about ‘an effervescent moment’ in which grassroots movements come together to bring about real social change. Hopefully, the People’s climate march this Sunday will be such a moment. Shifting resources from arms to renewables is vital if we want a better future for people, better for jobs and better for our environment.

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