Environmental NGO’s have been uncritically thumping the green tech funding plank and they’re generating funding that could be harder to hold onto than a fistful of sand in the Iraqi oilfields.
There’s a coup underway in the environmental movement. But the golpistas (coup makers) aren’t exactly the usual suspects. They’re not the consumer product manufacturers who co-opt our messaging and repackage the same old junk with green labels. The culprits are members of the National Defense Industrial Association (NDIA). War profiteers are charging, guns drawn, into the green tech sector and eyebrows should be raised. This is a hold-up!
The new gospel of “greening” the armed forces is drawing public money that makes domestic infrastructure handouts look like pennies in a fountain. “Green jobs” means something else entirely to these folks.
But what’s wrong with a greener military? Simply put, war is always an assault on the environment. The US military could become more fuel efficient and drop from their status as the world’s largest single oil consumer. But that wouldn’t change the fact that forcibly destabilizing states like Iraq and Afghanistan means a protracted collapse of civil infrastructure that results in mass pollution and environmental disasters, compounded by the toxic devastation wrought by military explosives.
The Expansionist Problem
More fundamentally, the military’s expansionist ideology runs counter to our basic interests as environmentalists. Climate recovery means transitioning to a nonexpansionist economy based on real green technology and localized energy independence. Localization doubly addresses the problems of extracting finite fossil fuels and the resulting unstable temporary economies that create fleeting jobs and devastate communities. Mountaintop removal coal mining is a prime example. In Appalachia, the coal industry is stripping every mountain it can get its hands on with a minimal temporary workforce. As the folks in Coal River, West Virginia, have shown, wind farming those same ridges would create secure local jobs, leave mountains intact and generate electricity and tax revenues until the wind stops blowing. Nothing that sensible figures into the military industrial agenda.
“Greening” the military, by all indications, is a movement of false solutions. Struck with the overwhelming cost of oil-based fuel, the Air Force plans to transition to 50 percent coal-to-liquids and biomass synthetic fuel by 2016. That’s right, coal-fired bombers and fighter jets. Ingenious! The Navy is pushing a similarly backward approach: GMO biofuels for aircraft, hybrid and eventually all-electric ships. More coal, more nukes and yet another subsidy for industrial agriculture, arguably the US’ most economically and environmentally unsustainable sector. This push for false solutions reveals the deep contradictions of greening war.
The Economist gets to the heart of the matter, explaining that the new military industrial agenda “is not a question of preventing climate change, reducing dependence on imported oil, or even complying with President Barack Obama’s green agenda. The need for alternative sources of energy is a military necessity.” In Afghanistan, it takes seven gallons of fuel to deliver one gallon for use in battle. Fuel supply lines are the US’ greatest vulnerability there and in Iraq. “A gallon of jet fuel that costs $1.05 ends up costing $400 by the time it gets to Afghanistan …,” reported the NDIA journal in articles with titles like “Gargantuan Thirst for Fuel Creates Logistical Nightmare for Marines” and “Tough to Free Troops From Oppressive Tyranny of Fuel.”
It’s a cruel irony to claim that the military is oppressed by the “tyranny of fuel.” In reality, US troops are acting under orders to enforce the tyranny of fuel and oppress Iraqis, Afghans, Pakistanis, and whosoever else has the misfortune of living in the midst of strategic oil and natural gas reserves. My thanks go to the NDIA for letting me use this language without sounding like a total wing nut.
The resource grab behind the expansionist US “war on terror” in the Middle East and Central Asia is the real tyranny here. It’s a war for fossil fuels fought in the service of US-allied multinational energy corporations. I won’t beat a dead camel and explain the oil agenda behind the Iraq war, but the resource interests behind the Afghanistan war bear repeating.
Buried under the deception of anti-terror propaganda is the reality that Afghanistan is a key route for US energy interests seeking to access otherwise Russian-controlled Central Asian natural gas and oil. In a pre-war document that can be recovered from Internet archives, The US Dept of Energy, Energy Information Administration explained:
Afghanistan’s significance from an energy standpoint stems from its geographical position as a potential transit route for oil and natural gas exports from Central Asia to the Arabian Sea. This potential includes proposed multi-billion-dollar oil and gas export pipelines through Afghanistan, although these plans have now been thrown into serious question … low oil prices and turmoil in Afghanistan … making the pipeline project uneconomical and too risky. (DOE, 2000)
Oil and natural gas prices are up, and the growing US occupation aims to stabilize the country. Hamid Karzai, the US-backed president of Afghanistan since 2004, famous for his 2009 election fraud, was in on the pipeline project years before 9/11. In the late 1990s, Karzai served as an adviser to Unocal (since acquired by Chevron) when it was planning the pipeline cited by the DOE above. Therein lies the real oppressive tyranny of fuel behind the US war in Afghanistan.
Bringing the War Home
Back on the home front in Washington, DC, where I live and organize against climate chaos and the war on terror, the NDIA and friends are jockeying for green funding. Recently, our city played host to the Military Energy Alternatives Conference, where the wrong people were taking aim at green tech funding. The web site announced, “Discussion will focus on the renewable path to energy security and how funds in the stimulus package have been appropriated towards a clean energy goal.” These events should be considered important points of intervention for the antiwar and climate movements. The Marine Corps hosted a similar conference recently.
Meanwhile, the recession rages and DC green organizations are still pushing climate legislation as a jobs bill, S1733, the “Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act.” Putting carbon trading and the maddening weaknesses of the bill aside, greening the economy is still the only logical path to sustainable recovery. Green jobs are a hard sell after Obama conceded defeat to the racist red-baiting campaign to depose Van Jones, the administration’s green jobs adviser. And even harder since the State of the Union address. But the military is still on board and that’s reason for concern.
War loves a recession. Following the great depression, WWII helped rescued the US economy and provided near full employment. Today’s situation is different. The war on terror is one of the driving factors behind the recession and unemployment is at a terrible high. The winners here are the war-profiteering industries, turning record profits, and military recruiters. I wrote my undergrad senior thesis on youth recruitment and the lessons of history carry on. Since the draft was closed in 1973 and the military became an “all volunteer force,” youth unemployment has been the most important factor feeding recruitment. In the early 1980s, recruiters seized upon the recession and developed today’s high school recruiting strategies. They brought in the most new recruits in the history of the all-volunteer force before 2009.
While we call for green jobs, the recession is killing young people’s prospects, and recruiters are circling like vultures over our peers. Youth unemployment is at a record high 50 percent, with twice as many black youth as white youth jobless. The crisis-level recruiting shortfalls of the Bush era are over and recruiters are bringing in more soldiers than the all-volunteer force has ever seen. Aided by a $20 billion recruiting budget, 2009 was the first year that recruitment numbers exceeded quotas in all the military services. It’s a racist poverty draft, which is worth noting because racial and economic justice are among the founding ideas of the green jobs movement.
Obama’s 2009 stimulus provided $500 million to fund civilian green jobs and $420 million to fund military “greening.” That was part of the $7.8 billion defense portion of the stimulus added to the $500 billion 2009 military budget. It’s also disturbing to compare those numbers to the $256 million in the stimulus for Americorps and Job Corps. I haven’t found a thorough analysis of the $708 billion 2010 military budget or the $33 billion in additional funds that Obama requested for war in Afghanistan. Such research is especially challenging because the military stopped using words like recruitment and accessions in its public filings, presumably to insulate itself from due criticism.
I would be remiss to ignore the larger sums in the stimulus for green energy, like the $11 billion for “smart grid” improvements. And the NDIA folks aren’t ignoring that money either. In Washington, DC, Lockheed Martin, the infamous high tech arms developer, won the contract to manage the $12.7 million commercial energy efficiency programs. They also have similar contracts with New York State Energy R&D and PG&E. If the administration pumps increasing funding into military green tech, then the corporations that benefit will undoubtedly keep putting those developments to work in the civilian sector.
Maybe that still doesn’t sound so bad to some readers. So, lets get to the core of the ideology that would excuse a corporate-militarized green grid. “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.” Right, Adam Smith? Hopefully by now, I’ve made it clear that the “interest” behind the NDIA agenda is about “green” profit by any means. If we leave it to them, then endless resource wars and false solutions is what’s for dinner.
There’s been a major shift in Washington since the days of the 2009 stimulus, and only time will tell where politicians and corporations go with the green doctrine this year. Obama is turning away from his election-year green rhetoric and the Supreme Court just opened the floodgates to a multinational corporate buyout of Congress. The 2011 federal budget proposal for green energy education could be a glimmer of hope. Or, it could be yet another subsidy to military industry research. Whatever is to come, the war profiteering corporate green push is still on. Royal Dutch Shell just launched a green tech greenwash advertising campaign that’s dominating the DC Metro.
Fortunately, young people’s antiwar, anti-warming organizing is heating up too. Let’s the keep the pressure on and take the fight to the fossil hawks. Coal-fired fighter jets, biofuel bombers and an armed green jobs corps advancing on the horizon? That’s not my clean energy future.