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Panglossing the Climate Emergency Connecting the Crises of Climate Change, Militarization, Extreme P

Updated: Aug 3, 2023

In his famous satire, Voltaire portrays Dr. Pangloss as the naïve mentor of Candide. Voltaire wrote Candide as a response to Enlightenment optimism even in the face of disasters like the 1755 Lisbon earthquake and tsunami that killed at least 30,000 people. Voltaire saw that nature was unpredictable and at times powerfully destructive, and he saw that state power can ally with fanaticism and immorality, requiring an informed and active citizenry to counter demagoguery. But Pangloss sees none of this, and his refrain is simply that “this is the best of all possible worlds.”

Since its inception twenty-one years ago, the official climate meetings have been underreported in the media, although the 21st Conference of Parties (COP21 Paris) in December 2015 on climate change garnered much more attention than in the past. At COP 21, there was a self-congratulatory sense of relief that the negotiations did not fall apart and that the global warming target was lowered from 2C to 1.5C. However, absent was evidence that the negotiators really understood the climate science and the consequences of the targets that they set. Nor did there seem to be a genuine understanding of the plight of the majority of the world. Three startling but largely neglected articles appeared at the time of the celebratory reactions to the climate agreement. Oxfam reported that the world’s richest 10% produce half the world’s greenhouse gas emissions [GHG] and that the richest 62 people own the same amount as 50% of the entire world population. South African academic and activist, Patrick Bond, exposed the “distraction gimmicks” of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, in which the “heartless World Bank economists” set the measure of poverty at $1.25/day rather than the UN Conference on Trade and Development [UNCTAD] measure of $5/day, which means that a full 60% of the world population is living in extreme poverty. And George Monbiot wrote about “the world looking away” from the eco-apocalypse of Indonesia’s forest fires, where tropical forests are set ablaze to open up land to grow oil palm for biofuels. “Fire is raging across the 5,000km length of Indonesia…. It is hard to convey the scale of this inferno… A great tract of Earth is on fire. It looks as you might imagine hell to be… Children are being prepared for evacuation in warships; already some have choked to death. After the last great conflagration in 1997, there was a missing cohort in Indonesia of 15,000 children under the age of three, attributed to air pollution. This, it seems, is worse.” 1

The early 1990s was a critical historical turning point with regard to climate change, nuclear weapons and militarization, and the distribution of wealth and power. Climate scientist James Hansen had testified before the U.S. Congress that climate change was definitely anthropogenic and that continued fossil fuel emissions portended a planetary emergency. The collapse of the Soviet Union signaled the possibility of eliminating nuclear weapons. At that time, it was arguably feasible to eliminate nuclear weapons and stem the rise of carbon dioxide emissions. Instead, the rate of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions steadily increased. The development of more potent nuclear weapons than the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs and the advent of missile defense have made nuclear war more thinkable than during the Cold War. The break-up of superpower rivalry gave rise to the unprecedented concentration of wealth and power in the United States. Backed by international financial institutions, the United States projects austerity, militarization, and authoritarianism; not only power over people but over the physical basis of life: “…the United States enjoys command of the commons – command of the sea, space, and air.” 2

While each of these three crises cause tremendous loss of life, the climate emergency is unique in that the physical processes, unleashed by the greenhouse effect, impose an urgent time frame. There is a race against time to prevent runaway climate change, which could essentially make the earth uninhabitable. In the second part of this article, I will review what is now known in detail about the climate as a system. Citing temperature targets alone is misleading; in Naomi Oreskes’ words, it is a strategy of distraction and delay. 3 In the first section, I will write about the militarization of climate change. The military is a huge source of GHG emissions and was made exempt under the Kyoto Protocol. Its connection with climate change is ignored by people across the political spectrum. I outline the wide range of ways that militarization intersects with climate change and discuss externalities and life-cycle analysis.

Part I – THE MILITARIZATION OF CLIMATE CHANGE Fossil fuel addiction in the developed world is generally blamed on excessive consumption habits. This neglects the role of the military. Sociologists Brett Clark and Andrew K. Jorgenson researched 53 developed and less developed countries over a 25-year period. Their findings show that there is a “treadmill of production” and a “treadmill of destruction”. The production side propels the world economy toward constant expansion, demanding more and more resources. The treadmill of destruction, not just consumption, “helps create conditions where more developed countries and those with more powerful militaries are able to over-utilize global ‘environmental space.’” They argue that “militaries as social structures generate environmental degradation regardless of whether they are engaged in armed conflicts or not.” The military “facilitates the increased appropriation of resources” at home and abroad. Most significantly in terms of climate injustice and the issue of loss and damage, the military serves political power and geopolitical influence in the quest for resource expropriation from underdeveloped regions. In these regions, “Domestic levels of resource consumption [are] often well below globally sustainable thresholds.” 4 As is well documented, the increasingly impoverished countries are then forced to borrow at high interest rates from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund on condition that they dismantle infrastructure and embrace austerity and endless debt. The treadmill of destruction is also highly productive: international transfers of major weapons was 16% higher in 2010-2014 than in 2005-2009. The bulk of sales are from highly industrialized countries to developing countries, increasing their impoverishment and debt. 5

Sara Flounders’ 2009 article on the Copenhagen climate meetings called attention to the astonishing silence about the military:

“In evaluating the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen — with more than 15,000 participants from 192 countries, including more than 100 heads of state, as well as 100,000 demonstrators in the streets — it is important to ask: How is it possible that the worst polluter of carbon dioxide and other toxic emissions on the planet is not a focus of any conference discussion or proposed restrictions? By every measure, the Pentagon is the largest institutional user of petroleum products and energy in general. Yet the Pentagon has a blanket exemption in all international climate agreements.”
“The Pentagon wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; its secret operations in Pakistan; its equipment on more than 1,000 U.S. bases around the world; its 6,000 facilities in the U.S.; all NATO operations; its aircraft carriers, jet aircraft, weapons testing, training and sales will not be counted against U.S. greenhouse gas limits or included in any count.”

From Sara Flounders’ 2014 follow-up article: “Also excluded are its weapons testing and all multilateral operations such as the giant U.S. commanded NATO military alliance and AFRICOM, the U.S. military alliance now blanketing Africa. The provision also exempts U.S./UN-sanctioned activities of ‘peacekeeping’ and ‘humanitarian relief.’” 6 A life-cycle analysis of military emissions would include the extraction and transportation of materials for military equipment, the manufacturing process, the transportation of equipment, and disposal.

The military exemption was pushed through by then Vice-President Al Gore, arguing that the United States Congress would never ratify a treaty with provisions about the military. The exemption was allowed in the Kyoto Protocol, along with exemptions for international aviation and shipping. Though the United States still did not ratify the treaty, the exemptions remained in place.

Military emissions and the militarization of climate change are rarely part of discussion by negotiators, NGOs, or activists. It is not addressed by the 2010 Cochabamba declaration on the Rights of Mother Earth, by the 2015 Leap Manifesto, or by According to U.S. officials, the Paris agreement still “has no provisions covering military compliance one way or another, leaving decisions up to nation states as to which national sectors should make emissions cuts before 2030.” 7

Barry Sanders’ book The Green Zone: The Environmental Costs of Militarism contains carefully researched details about fossil fuel use in US wars. 8 “On the evening of March 19 2003, 1700 aircraft flew roughly 1400 strike sorties and fired 504 cruise missiles directly into the heart of Baghdad, dropping up to 16,000 pounds of bombs.”(p 40) “The F-15 fighter jet uses 25 gallons/minute or 1580 gallons/hour. The F-16 uses 28 gallons/minute or 1680 gallons/hour. The B-52 Stratocruiser with 8 jet engines, uses roughly 3334 gallons/hour. The battleship USS Independence consumes 100,000 gallons of fuel/day. To make things worse, targeted bombing involves blowing up highly volatile and extremely strategic sites like fuel and weapons depots, power plants, fertilizer plants, and chemical plants, releasing much more toxic waste into the atmosphere…” (p. 70). Used to fuel aircraft carriers, “bunker oil contains a higher concentration of sulfur than other diesel fuels, leaving behind both CO2 but SO2 as well. The two gases in combination form a thick layer in the atmosphere and hold the sun’s heat in more tenaciously…” (p. 71)

The life-cycle emissions and externalities of the military include the widespread destruction of natural carbon sinks – the carbon dioxide absorption capacity of forests and soil. Massive amounts of defoliants were used in the carpet bombing of forests in North Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. Approximately 50% of Kuwait’s “land area has had its fragile soil surface destroyed by scores of tanks.” (Sanders, p. 48) As alluded to by Clark and Jorgenson, the military (and paramilitary) treadmill of destruction involves the exploitation of resources. The Alberta tar sands has permanently destroyed vast swaths of boreal forest. A high proportion of the end uses of Alberta tar sands bitumen is the U.S. military. These emissions then are presumably exempt. 9

Life-cycle analysis of military GHG emissions includes the reconstruction of war-torn areas. The Halliburton and Bechtel corporations have a long involvement in private-public partnerships, such as the attempt to privatize water in Cochabamba (Bolivia) and no-bid contracts to reconstruct Iraq. Construction of war-ravaged cities involves massive amounts of cement, the most GHG intensive industrial product. Manufacturing cement from limestone requires large amounts of energy for heat, and in the heating process limestone’s stored carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere. Sitting on the Haliburton and Bechtel corporate boards are the U.S. government, military, and business elite. 10

NATO, the U.S. Navy, and the Pentagon have issued policy statements on the military’s role vis-à-vis climate change. The military defines climate change as a “threat multiplier”. In a presentation by former NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, fifteen of the seventeen non-military issues that NATO is prepared to address are climate-related

The U.S. Navy also claims to have strategic interests in the Arctic. The race for global economic and military hegemony extends to the Arctic and Antarctic as warming opens up competition for sea lanes and resource extraction. In 2009, the U.S. Department of the Navy released a 36-page document called Navy Arctic Roadmap. “The United States has broad and fundamental national security interests in the Arctic region and is prepared to operate either independently or in conjunction with other states to safeguard these interests. ….What the practical implementation of this policy means is the expanded penetration of the Arctic Circle by the U.S. Navy’s submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) third of the American nuclear triad…”

The 2010 Pentagon Quadrennial Defense Review includes climate change as a military issue. In a memo made public on January 19th, 2016, the Pentagon affirmed that “climate change will be a constant consideration in how the Department of Defense goes about its war mission, acquisition programs, readiness plans, construction projects and security judgements….[including] a larger presence in the Arctic, where more land and sea are exposed as the polar ice caps melt.” 11

There are implicit assumptions in the military framing. It has become a truism that environmental threats cause violent conflict. But is this accurate, and what does this assumption imply? In her article “The Militarization of Climate Change,” Emily Gilbert writes: “Climate change has been identified as a top military concern. We should be worried.” In the military documents she cites, the “threat multiplier” effect and “failed state” scenario is directly linked to future acts of extremism and terrorism. She quotes documents that define the military’s role in resource protection and “climate change-related scenarios around humanitarian and disaster relief, and for protecting oil and gas resources in insecure areas.” (MoD, 2010) The U.K. Global Strategic Trends Programme 2007-2036 report issued from the Ministry of Defense (2006:65) even indicated that intervention in outer space might be required so as “to mitigate the effects of climate change or to harness climatological features in the support of military or strategic advantage”. Gilbert writes that the ‘failed state’ framing “perpetuates a model whereby the enemy to the nation is elsewhere, and that ‘environmental threats are something that foreigners do to Americans or to American territory,’ not as a result of domestic policies.” The military purports to ensure “stability within the global commons’ of air, sea, space and cyberspace” while in fact establishing hegemony, control and management over the commons. About the “greening’ of the military, Gilbert writes that this sidesteps “whether there should indeed be a military at all.” 12

The Hobbesian view that impoverished and traumatized people react with violence and societal breakdown is held by people across the political spectrum. Again, we should be worried. Violence and chaos are the rationale for endless militarization, securitization, pacification, and austerity. As stated by Betsy Hartmann: “This buzz about climate conflict is essentially old wine in new bottles. It draws from models of environmental conflict, popular in the 1990s, that in turn draw from old colonial and neocolonial stereotypes about poor peasants and herders. What I call degradation narratives go something like this: population-pressure induced poverty makes Third World peasants degrade their environments by over-farming or over-grazing marginal lands….” The degradation narrative blames poverty on population pressure, it targets migration as an environmental and security threat, and “it justifies foreign interventions to put things straight.” 13

In recent environmental disasters such as the Haiti earthquake and Hurricanes Sandy and Katrina, violence came from the military and police, while the severely impacted people initially organized themselves into communities of mutual help. Amy Goodman of Democracy Now provided eyewitness reports of how the military took over the Port-au-Prince airport in its ostensible humanitarian intervention, only to block incoming medical help; crates of water bottles on the tarmac were for soldiers, not for the earthquake victims. Subsequently, the UN peacekeepers brought cholera to Haiti, leading to thousands of deaths for which the UN still claims impunity. In its peacekeeping and humanitarian interventions, the U.S., Canada, the OAS, and UN did not follow the lead of the Haitian community and interfered with former President Aristide’s de-militarization of the police (Sprague p. 84-86). The Arab Spring and violence in Sudan are attributed to climate change-related drought causing social disruption, food shortages, high prices, and desperation. This leaves out the responsibility of the economic system. “According to an unpublished report by a senior World Bank economist, biofuels were responsible for a 75 percent increase in global food prices over the previous six years. This was in stark contrast to the U.S. government’s earlier claim that only 3 percent of recent food price rises were attributable to the use of crops to produce plant-derived fuels.” (Tokar, p. 123) A further determinant of high food prices was the market. The Goldman Sachs Commodity Index listed food on the futures market. Prices hikes were driven by biofuels and by gambling on future profits, not by food shortages due to drought. 14

Only a small fraction of military emissions would be affected by a shift to renewable energy, by “greening” the military. The destruction of carbon sinks is irreversible in the time scale required to eliminate GHG emissions. Yet proffered climate solutions continue to narrowly focus on replacing fossil fuels with renewables and neglect those areas of production and destruction that will rely on fossil fuels for decades to come.

Part II – PANGLOSSING CLIMATE SCIENCE This section reviews climate change science because of erroneous assumptions underlying the climate negotiations. What is the meaning of limiting warming to 1.5C, of drawing down GHG concentrations to 350ppm, and of a carbon budget allowing emissions of a cumulative 1000 gigatons of CO2 until 2030? These are the goals of Paris COP 21. These targets do not take into account amplifying feedbacks, climate processes that are already irreversible, such as melting sea ice and disintegrating ice shelves, and the lag between cause and effect mainly due to the temporary storage of added heat and CO2 in the ocean. These factors will be discussed below.

Evasion, omission, and ambiguity about climate challenge understanding. Focusing on predictions of what could happen often deflects attention from what is happening now and from evidence of what actually happened in the past. At some point recently, the climate goal shifted from elimination of greenhouse gases to mitigation and adaptation. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, mitigation means to render more gentle, milder, to appease, mollify, to lessen the stringency of an obligation.

The numbers are confusing. The timelines for capping fossil fuel emissions are evasive. Capping tar sands emissions at 100 megatonnes CO2 by 2030 does not mean stopping the tar sands entirely, but allowing 100 megatonnes each year after 2030. Proposed reduction schemes for GHG employ confusing and varied baselines: from below 1990. or 2005, 2006, or 2015 levels. Targets for peak emissions are all over the map — 2020, or 2030, or 2050, or by the end of the 21st century. Two dates are used as a reference point for the 1C increase in temperature: 1780 and 1880. “Transitioning” to a “green energy future” provides no time frame.

The treadmills of destruction and of production are essentially unregulated and are set-up to be permanent. Climate solutions proffer alternative energy but demand no limits or regulation of production and destruction. Yet there are many indications that human survival depends on the immediate elimination of greenhouse gas emissions. 1.5C is twice the increase of the 0.8C temperature that has already caused unprecedented droughts, drought-related forest fires, floods, storms, changes in the jet stream and ocean circulation, rapid melting of Arctic ice sheets, and accelerated melting of Greenland glaciers and Antarctic ice shelves. Current effects observed on every continent and in every ocean are due to concentrations from several decades ago. Our current 400ppm commits us to much more extensive effects in the near future.

The common understanding of climate change does not take into account the non-linearity of climate processes. Adding a specific quantity of greenhouse gas triggers much more heat trapping through feedbacks. Fossil fuels trap the sun’s energy in the Earth’s atmosphere. The sun’s energy is transformed into heat as it meets the dark surfaces of land, ocean, and vegetation. Soil, ocean, and vegetation function as sinks as they absorb both heat and carbon dioxide, temporarily masking or moderating the full effects of CO2 emissions. Due to a range of factors, these sinks can change from absorbing to emitting CO2 and to releasing even more potent greenhouse gases, such as methane.

The current 1C rise and the target of 1.5C reflect average surface temperature over ocean and land. Much more significant for the climate system and for living conditions are the unprecedented variations in regional temperature and climate conditions. For example, warming in the Arctic is occurring at twice the rate of other regions in the world. Arctic temperature is 3C above the average and already has detrimental effects on living conditions and on ocean circulation. “At 1.5°C we would still see temperature extremes in the Arctic rise by 4.4°C and a 2.2°C warming of extremes around the Mediterranean basin.” 15 Regional warming produces feedbacks that can have global effects. The most concerning would be a large release of methane from the melting permafrost. Regional extreme temperatures on land are much greater than changes in the global mean because the ocean surface warms much more slowly than the land and brings down the average. Regional variations have great impact on agriculture, such as by changing rainfall patterns and causing heat waves and drought. Extreme high temperatures [60C, 140F] in the Middle East and in other regions renders parts of these areas uninhabitable by human beings.

James Anderson, Harvard professor of atmospheric chemistry, identifies three central processes regarding Earth’s climate: 1) climate is a global system; 2) critical to the entire structure is the temperature difference between the polar and tropical regions; and 3) the ancient paleoclimate record shows various factors carrying the earth in and out of glacial periods, but all the variables are overwhelmed by increasing or decreasing CO2 in the atmosphere. He criticizes the wording “global warming” because climate is a structure and global warming connotes slow change as if there’s time to think things over. Rather, there are irreversible jolts impacting the sensitive climate system. 16

On November 30, 2015, at the outset of the COP21 climate meetings, the Scientific American published an article, “The Most Important Number in Climate Change: Just how sensitive is Earth’s climate to increasing concentrations of carbon dioxide?” 17 The article referred to climate sensitivity. As originally calculated by Jule Charney in 1979, equilibrium climate sensitivity is the increase of earth’s surface temperature, if the concentration of carbon dioxide in the air was doubled over pre-industrial levels of 280 parts per million (ppm). The prediction for only the effects of CO2 is a temperature rise between 1.5C and 4C. In a sense the number has become politicized. The lower figure permits more time for allowing fossil fuel emissions to remain high. Yet predictions about the future must undergo revisions: there is additional information based on current observations that are more precise because of improved instruments and accumulated data, and there is more information from ocean sediments and ice cores that tell of past climate change. In general, predictions by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have been conservative, and many of the worst case projections about sea level rise, land and sea-based ice, and global average surface temperature have already been surpassed.

David Wasdell’s calculations of climate sensitivity add to Charney’s by including sea ice loss, clouds, other potent greenhouse gases that are unleashed by increased temperature, and feedbacks from terrestrial and ocean changes. These additional factors, occurring at different points and with varying contributions, make the processes non-linear. A graph of a non-linear process shows an upward curve rather than a straight line. There are also abrupt shifts and sudden accelerations. For example, the “rate of sea level rise can be rapid once ice sheets begin to disintegrate. About 14,000 years ago, sea level increased 4 to 5 meters per century for several consecutive centuries – an average rate of 1 meter every 20 or 25 years.” The linear model used in climate negotiations underestimates the rate of change by using the lower estimate of climate sensitivity. Wasdell’s estimate of climate sensitivity, taking feedbacks into account, is at least 7.8C for a doubling of CO2 over pre-industrial levels. 18 His calculations are consistent with current predictions by the Hadley Centre, the UN Environment Programme, and the International Energy Agency [see Dahr Jamail, footnote 24].

James Hansen’s observations on the extent of sea ice melt, evidence of past shifts between glacial and inter-glacial periods, and ancient paleoclimate evidence of rapid sea level rise, led him to the target of 350ppm. He estimates that “[with] doubling or tripling the preindustrial carbon dioxide level, Earth will surely head toward the ice-free condition, with sea level 75 meters higher than today.” (Hansen, p. 160) 19 Even a 1-meter rise in sea level would be a disaster for billions of people.

The idea of a carbon budget comes from political interests in maximizing fossil fuel production, not from scientific information about the climate system. The COP21 “budget” would allow 270b tonnes more of CO2 emissions into the atmosphere, but this ignores feedbacks, the time lag, and the irreversible processes already set in motion. The concentration of greenhouse gases is currently far above the 350ppm that portends the shift from a glaciated to an ice-free planet. Wasdell’s estimated 7.8C rise implies that the budget was spent decades ago.

Hansen explains how feedbacks determine the magnitude of climate change. CO2 traps heat which causes water evaporation. Heat will eventually cause large-scale melting of permafrost and the release of large stores of methane. Recent research found that in the past, the tipping point for thawing of Siberian permafrost was as low as 1.5C increase in average global surface temperature. Water vapour and methane are greenhouse gases and both trap much more heat than CO2. Water vapour and methane are amplifying feedbacks as they increase the trapping of heat, and they generate other feedbacks. Increased water vapour in the atmosphere causes powerful storms and the additional feedback of washing away soil and vegetation which are important carbon sinks. Amplifying feedbacks can be difficult to predict in modelling. For example, warmer winter temperatures led to a huge proliferation of pine beetles in western Canada as more larvae survived the winter. This led to the infestation and death of 18.1 million hectares of forests. This meant loss of a large carbon sink. 20 Dying forests are also more susceptible to forest fires, and fires turn forests into emitters of the stored CO2. Northern forest fires produce black soot, which covers snow, causing absorption of more heat.

The Arctic is warming at a much faster rate than the tropics; the diminished temperature difference between the North pole and equator is already affecting both atmospheric and ocean circulation. The tilt of the Earth, the Earth’s spinning, and temperature differences between the poles and tropical areas all interact to produce the Earth’s circulating air and ocean currents. With less temperature differences between hot and cold areas, there is less pushing and pulling against each other of large air or water masses. The atmospheric jet streams and ocean currents are changing and contribute to idiosyncratic weather patterns emerging all over the Earth.

The iconic image of the polar bear alone on an ice floe represents only the proverbial tip of the climate emergency iceberg. Scientists are very concerned about ice conditions in the Arctic and in West and East Antarctica. Ice shelves and sea ice are situated over water and do not contribute to sea level rise, while ice sheets and glaciers are situated over land. Ice shelves are contiguous with land ice and act as a buttress against glaciers and ice sheets. Ice shelves in West Antarctica and on Ellesmere Island have disintegrated much more rapidly than in the past. The breaking up of ice shelves is thought to be a result of warmer air temperature, of warmer ocean water, which melts ice shelves from below, and to decreasing sea ice, which had protected ice shelves from ocean waves and storms. When ice shelves disintegrate, melting glaciers and ice sheets can flow and add cold fresh water to the sea. Scientists were particularly surprised by the speed of the collapse of West Antarctic Larsen A ice shelf. The melting of all Greenland’s ice sheets would raise sea level by 7.2 meters. Most of Antarctica’s ice is in East Antarctica which is much more stable, though scientists have recently discovered vulnerability to warming by ocean water from below. Melting the totality of Antarctica’s ice sheets would raise sea level by 61.1 meters. 21

Sea level rise is largely due to thermal expansion (warm water expands) and to the infusion of fresh water from glaciers and ice sheets. Global ocean warming has doubled in recent decades. Sea level rise is uneven, rising higher in some areas than others. 22 Small island states are most vulnerable and most likely will need to be evacuated. Many coastline cities and much of Bangladesh will be uninhabitable by the end of the century. Salinization of soil due to sea level rise already affects major food growing areas, such as the Mekong and Nile deltas. 23

Again, images of melting sea ice and calving ice shelves do not convey their extensive effects on the climate system. The influx of fresh water changes the stratification of cold and warm layers in the ocean. In addition to the horizontal circulation of ocean currents over long distances, there is vertical circulation. Infusions of fresh water from melting ice sheets and glaciers slows down or stops vertical circulation because the fresh water layer is less dense than salt water and does not sink. In warmer areas of the ocean, vertical circulation decreases because warming surface water is less dense than cold water and does not sink. Nutrients from lower layers are not able to reach the higher layers.

In addition to absorbing heat, the ocean takes in CO2 from the atmosphere. When combined with water, CO2 forms carbonic acid which contributes to ocean acidification. Like the way carbon bubbles are released from a warming carbonated drink, warming oceans emit CO2 back into the atmosphere. It is not known whether, or when, a saturation point would cause the ocean to emit large amounts of stored CO2. The greatest danger would be the release of stored methane from sediments on the seafloor of the Arctic Ocean. Hansen believes that this is what caused the end-Permian extinction when 90% of terrestrial and marine species became extinct (Hansen, p. 149).

Climate change is not a subject that can be understood through brief communications, pictures, sound bites, or numbers. The generally accepted number for temperature is 1C increase since 1880, but this number alone does not convey the rapidly increasing rise in temperature. The World Meteorological Organization reports that the average land and ocean-surface temperature for the decade 2001-2010 was estimated to be 0.47C above the 1961-1990 global average but a full +0.21C above the previous decade 1991-2000 global average. That is 0.21 in one decade. The estimated global average temperature in 2010 was 0.8C above 1880 or pre-industrial levels, and by 2015 the figure was 1C. This means that in only five years the temperature has increased by 0.2C, double the rate of 2000-2010. 24

CONCLUSION I have used the term Pangloss to refer to the general blindness to the climate system itself. The belief that 1.5C is safe, the lack of any time frame for reducing (not eliminating!) greenhouse gases, and the assumption that the atmosphere can still hold hundreds more gigatonnes of CO2 is a dangerous fiction. There is blindness to the connections between climate change, the military, and the political economic system. A 2005 Worldwatch paper critiqued a 2004 UN High-Level Panel report and a 2004 leaked Pentagon report. Both endorsed the “environment-security linkage”. “Normal” climate change was seen as a long range problem causing floods, droughts, epidemics, species loss, famine, and more, but “abrupt” climate change could lead to a halting of the ocean currents and widespread accelerations of other catastrophic effects and to a “world of warring states” requiring military intervention and securitization. There is a threat of abrupt and catastrophic effects, but it is coupled with almost complete disregard for the welfare of the majority of the world. There is blindness to the human world when people speak as if there have not yet been significant impacts, that it is okay to wait and that climate change is secondary to other social justice issues. Worldwatch estimated that by the 1990s, natural disasters that could be linked to and exacerbated by climate change already caused hundreds of thousands of deaths and average annual economic losses on the order of $660bn. A meager $100bn/year for developing countries was pledged at the Cancun climate meeting six years ago, but by Oxfam’s estimates, “just $2.5bn to $4.5bn of current climate finance is going towards relief. By some estimates, there is less than $20bn a year in public finance making its way to developing countries for climate action – or less than a fifth of the $100bn target”. 25 With double-bookkeeping, some developed countries count climate adaptation funds as part of their overall development aid.

There is already an enormous human toll, estimated by Oxfam and by the Global Humanitarian Forum in 2009 to be 300,000 deaths/year. 26 In 2011 Nnimmo Bassey of Nigeria told the Durban COP climate delegates that their inaction was “A death sentence for Africa”. In 2013 Philippine delegate Yeb Sano entreated with the uncomprehending negotiators to “stop this madness”. Every delay in eliminating greenhouse gas emissions means more lives lost.

Amartya Sen observed two approaches to social change: aspiring to set up an ideal society, or stopping a known wrong, such as in the work of Karl Marx, Mary Wollstonecraft, and the abolitionists. 27 Following the path of stopping a known wrong, radical solutions to the climate crisis must include challenging “whether there should indeed be a military at all.” There are alternatives that could replace the military and that have historical antecedents, such as establishing a Civilian Conservation Corps, a Civilian First Responders Corps, and a Community Service Corps. There is also the antecedent of thinking “it can’t happen here.” But fortunately there are historical precedents for rapid action that show that many people do know how to see and act. People always ask “what can we do?” Work hard to end the military/security/industrial complex.

Judy Deutsch is a psychoanalyst and former President of Science for Peace. She has taught a course on Climate Justice at the University of Toronto.


3 Oreskes, Naomi and Erik M. Conway, Merchants of Doubt: How a handful of scientists obscured the truth on issues from tobacco smoke to global warming. (New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2010). On the strategy of “distraction and delay”, an exhibit at the N.Y. Museum of Natural History states that “carbon dioxide…stays in the atmosphere for only a few years.” The Economist November 28, 2015, Joel Budd p. 5 and p. 16: “In fact it climate change is a colossal but slow-moving problem, spanning generations.”

4 Andrew K. Jorgenson and Brett Clark, “Footprints: the division of nations and nature,” in Alf Hornborg, Brett Clark, and Kenneth Hermele, eds. Ecology and Power: Struggles over land and material resources in the past, present, and future. (London: Routledge, 2012), 155-167. On debt and the international financial institutions, see for example Damien Millet and Eric Toussaint, Who Owes Who? 50 questions about world debt. (New York: Zed Books, 2004). On debt and militarization, see David Graeber, Debt: The first 5,000 years. (Brooklyn: Melville House, 2012). On the military and austerity, see Greg Albo

8 Barry Sanders, The Green Zone The environmental costs of militarism. (Oakland: AK Press, 2009).

10 For example, Dick Cheney, the two Bush presidents, Donald Rumsfeld, Caspar Weinberger, George Shultz are among the political figures with financial connections to the Bechtel and Haliburton corporations. Gen. John J. Sheehan, USMC (ret.) is the former NATO Supreme Allied Commander, Atlantic and the former Special Advisor to Asia for the U.S. Defense Department and the former General Manager of the Petroleum and Chemical Business Unit for Europe/Africa/Middle East/South West Asia and was also a Bechtel Board member.

12 Emily Gilbert. The Militarization of Climate Change. (2010) Adaptability and Partnership: Issues for Strategic Defence Review. UK Ministry of Defence; (2006) The DCDC Global Strategivc Trends Programme 2007-repared by the Development, Concepts and Doctrine Centre, a Directorate General within the UK Ministry of Defence.

13 Betsy Hartmann: Challenging the Militarization of Climate Change.

14 Jeb Sprague, Paramilitarism and the Assault on Democracy in Haiti. (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2012) Brian Tokar. “Biofuels and the Global Food Crisis”. P 121, in Fred Magdoff Brian Tokar, (2010). Agriculture and Food in Crisis: Conflict, Resistance, and Renewal. (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2010).

15 Interview with Dr. Andrew J. Pitman on article: “Allowable CO2 emissions based on regional and impact-related climate targets”. The lead author is Professor Sonia Seneviratne and appears in Nature 529, 477–483 (28 January 2016)

19 James Hansen, Storms of My Grandchildren: The truth about the coming climate catastrophe and our last chance to save humanity. (New York: Bloomsbury, 2009).

21 Ocean Melting Greenland OMG. “A lot of the major uncertainty in future sea level rise is in the Greenland Ice Sheet,” said OMG principal investigator Josh Willis, a scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California. Greenland: West and East Antarctic ice sheet:

22 “Global ocean warming has doubled in recent decades, scientists find” January 19, 2016 2013 Contribution to 5th IPCC Assessment Report: Due to thermal expansion, glacial and ice sheet melt, and change in liquid water storage on land,” It is very likely that sea level will rise in more than about 95% of the ocean area. It is very likely that there will be a significant increase in the occurrence of future sea level extremes. It is virtually certain that global mean sea level rise will continue for many centuries beyond 2100, with the amount of rise dependent on future emissions.

24 Also see Dahr Jamail compiled predictions about average global surface temperature from the major climate sites, showing that the forecasts are for increasingly high temperatures earlier this century.,_the_climate_change_scorecard

25 “A New Paradigm for Human Security.” published in World Watch Magazine, January/February 2005, Volume 18, No. 1. Oxfam:

26 “The Anatomy of a Silent Crisis.”

27 Amartya Sen, The Idea of Justice. (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Belknap Press, 2009).


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