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Deep down we all know that war is fundamentally unsustainable and wrong. For one thing, responding effectively to global environmental change requires coordinated international cooperation. As explored in Peace or Die, this is inconceivable when national governments continue to invest heavily in blowing each other up. In theory the ‘Coalition of the Willing’ ‘won’ the Iraq war, but what was actually gained? The price of oil is still going up; the country is ruined and now the West has more sworn enemies. The world is a little less happy.
The wars Nato is fighting today serve no purpose other than to strengthen the military industrial complex and to prolonge our addiction to oil and our species’ unsettled teenage years. If nations continue to battle it out for ever scarcer resources we will all increasingly suffer whilst missing the small window of time, still available, for humanity to reconfigure itself to fit within the non-negotiable planetary boundaries, which are rapidly closing in around us.
We recently discovered that the US military’s bill for air conditioning alone in Afghanistan and Iraq is $20.2 billion annually. This is the kind of investment that renewable energy and ecological conservation is crying out for, but we are still allowing the political elite to prioritize unimaginably vast chunks of tax dollar for resource wars. As competing national armies encircle the Arctic clamoring to squeeze oil from a last great wilderness, or die trying, we have a brief moment to reconsider. Might there be a way to re-orientate the might of the military industrial complex?
When environmentalists and peaceniks talk of demilitarizing society they are branded idealistic and unrealistic. We are told that there will always be war and that if our country reduces its military force it will be vulnerable to capture or will take a lesser role on the global stage. The real reason, of course, is that the powerful barons, who own the arms companies, will lose profit and power if we begin the shift towards peace that sustainability requires.
From the perspective of someone selling guns, tanks and missiles; competing nations are much more profitable than a unified species, so we see the likes of Dick Cheney & Donald Rumsfeld successfully lobbying to ‘fight and decisively win multiple, simultaneous major theater wars’. The vast profits made by Rumsfeld, his cronies and the Halliburtons of this world are, of course, offset with the acute misery of the people and children of Iraq, Libya and Vietnam and ultimately,we all pay a heavy price .
But the 6th mass extinction event is a great leveller. If the ecosystems that we depend on are nudged out of their stable state and free fall to an unpredictable, new biophysical logic, the warmongers will go down too. Perhaps, by appealing to their engorged self interest we can divert them for long enough to give sustainability a chance? Could the environmental crisis become the next big market for the military machine? Can our military forces increasingly use their immense latent capacity for coordinated action to help create a sustainable world? Can we stop the armies of the world from squaring up to each other and get them working together to achieve globally-significant, environmental interventions?
“The world now stands on the brink of the final abyss. Let us all resolve to take all possible practicable steps to ensure that we do not, through our own folly, go over the edge. ” – Earl Mountbatten 1979
The Independent recently gave its front page to a new report that showed that the world’s oceans are faced with an unprecedented loss of species comparable to the great mass extinctions of prehistory. The seas are degenerating far faster than anyone has predicted, because of the cumulative impact of a number of severe stresses, ranging from climate warming and sea-water acidification, to widespread chemical pollution and gross overfishing. The coming together of these factors is now threatening the marine environment with a catastrophe “unprecedented in human history“.
It is hard to know how to respond when you read an article like this. Has the world gone completely mad? Are we really so stupid that we will let our biological life support system collapse around us? Are we really going to allow our governments to keep fighting for oil when our home planet is dieing!? WE HAVE TO DO SOMETHING!!
This devastating report, along with the other environmental catastrophes we face, requires a mobilization of military proportions. Actually, far bigger then any previous military mobilization. We need all the national armies of the world to act together to address to the greatest threat our species has ever faced. We need to transcend the fractious (il)logic of the nation state and acknowledge our co-dependence. We need to recruit an army for planet Earth which battles together for the future of life on this planet. Only unified as a species, and working together, do we stand any chance, at all, of continuing as one.
Much harm is done to the ocean because it is beyond the remit of national regulatory enforcement. We can change this. Currently vast armadas of naval vessels are patrolling the oceans looking for rival clans of bald monkeys to square up to. It is time for them to do something useful. We can protect the oceanic ecosystem by stopping over fishing and illegal dumping at sea, removing pollution and creating vast Marine Nature Reserves (MNRs). These huge areas must be put beyond the reach of human interference so that species can recover enabling ecosystems to become more resilient and better able to cope with the unstoppable change we have unleashed. These MNRs must be policed and navies are fit for this purpose.
As crucial ecosystems that we depend on near collapse, military agency must increasingly be brought to bear on the problem. In the short term, this has the immediate impact of responding to the urgent crisis. So, for example, we can use navies to stop over fishing and defend vast marine reserves and infantry battalions can plant trees and dig irrigation chanels or defend the last refuges of the mountain gorillas. Additionally, in the longer term, this provides a viable alternative role for military organizations as we move out of the era of competitive nations and war and into the age of sustainability. Clearly, a global body must oversee the coordinated evolution of competing military forces into a united global force for sustainability; the United Nations is uniquely positioned to do this.
Scientists are currently finalizing plans to formally announce that the last historical epoch is ending (The Holocene). The new era will be called the Anthropocene in recognition of the fact that humanity has now become a geological force. If the Anthropocene is to be longer then a blip in the fossil record; if our legacy is to be more then a very thin layer of trash in the sedimentary rock, then we must precipitate a phased diversion of military effort from human-to-human combat to ecosystem defence, rehabilitation and protection. This isn’t idealistic. It is essential.
[Done in partnership with The Unemployed Marine Biologist]
Sylvia Earle in the Independent: If the sea is in trouble, we are all in trouble here
- Peace or Die here
- Keeping what is left of the Oceans here
- Research suggests that we need to establish MNR networks across 20 – 30% of our oceans here
- Currently only 0.7% of the ocean is protected here
- One-sixth of the world’s population relies on fish and other seafood for their main source of protein here
Facts about Navies:
- The US Navy is the largest in the world with 430,400 men and women and a fleet that is greater than the next 13 largest navies combined.
- The Royal Navy has 38,600 men and women and the eighth-largest fleet in the world
- The U.S. military is the single largest consumer of energy in the world
- The U.S. Navy is the largest diesel fuel user in the world (as of 2005)
- The annual United States military budget as of 2006 was the largest of any NATO country at $667.7 billion.
- The Royal Navy provides this map on their website offering general location of their fleets (near oil rich countries we can appropriate from)
- More often than not, the navies spend their time on patrolling or training exercises
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