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Military v. Climate Security: U.S. and China Worlds Apart

The Chinese are spending 1/6th as much as the U.S. on their military and investing twice as much on clean energy technology

By Elizabeth McGowan

Jan 11, 2011

WASHINGTON—While China is already boasting “All aboard!” on a network of sleek passenger trains that zip 200 mph and beyond between major urban centers, the United States is still fussing about where to install a single high-speed rail line for a proposed California project.

That’s just a snapshot of how this country continues to lag behind its Asian competitor on the clean technology front.

Can America ever catch up? Yes, says Washington research fellow Miriam Pemberton. But it means taking a $100 billion-dollar bite out of the defense budget annually.

But prospects for that look dim. Many key leaders in a Republican-majority House have declared the Department of Defense off limits—even as they claim to be wielding hatchets for slicing away “waste” to lift the country out of economic doldrums.

An inside-the-Beltway defense contractor who asked to speak off the record told SolveClimate News in an interview that Congress won’t be lopping significant amounts from the defense budget anytime soon. And even if it did, that money would not be redirected toward a clean technology deficit.

“The idea that we will whack the Department of Defense to make the Department of Energy robust is a fantasy,” he said. “DOD might be cut some. The question is, what happens to that money? I can’t see those resources going toward DOE. That shift will not occur.”

Chasing China’s Investment Numbers

But Pemberton, who researches demilitarization issues for the Institute for Policy Studies’ Foreign Policy in Focus project, says Congress is missing the big picture.

If the effects of climate change are indeed so dire, she asks, then why shouldn’t defense dollars be redistributed toward DOE and other federal outlets such as the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Labor, the Department of Transportation and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that can play integral roles in avoiding these impending disasters?

Endowing those agencies with more cash to shrink carbon footprints, launch green jobs and advance clean technologies could mitigate the chaos of severe floods, droughts, heat waves and rising sea levels that climate scientists are predicting and witnessing. That could lessen the U.S. military’s concerns about having to tamp down unrest caused by climatic events worldwide.

“By cutting the defense budget we would be substituting the green (technology) race for the arms race started by Sputnik,” Pemberton said in an interview. “It’s a way of keeping up with the Chinese and saving the planet.”

Pemberton isn’t just speaking off the cuff. Her intensive research has compared U.S.-China expenditures—and her arithmetic is jarring.

Calculations she cites in an October report titled “Military vs. Climate Security: The 2011 Budgets Compared,” reveal that the U.S. climate change budget has more than doubled—from $7 billion to $18 billion—since 2008. Military spending in that same time period has risen from $696 billion to $739 billion. For every dollar spent on climate in 2008, the U.S. spent $94 on the military. That will drop to a $41: $1 ratio this year.

“Obviously, this is progress,” Pemberton said, but it isn’t enough to stay competitive. The Chinese are spending one-sixth as much as the United States on their military and investing twice as much on clean energy technology. For every dollar China spends on climate, between $2 and $3 goes toward its military.

“The extreme tilt in our budget toward military spending is leaving us way behind in two of the major growth markets of the global economy,” she said, referring to solar and wind technologies. “For the sake of our economic health and competitiveness … (and) security, we need to tilt the other way.”

No Robbing Peter to Pay Paul

As the country’s most prolific energy user, U.S. military leaders know it’s incumbent on them to innovate to contribute to national security by lowering their massive emissions profile.

“I agree with the secretary of energy (Steven Chu) that this is a Sputnik moment,” former deputy undersecretary of defense Sherri Goodman said in an interview. “I have no doubt that the military will be part of leading the revolution that allows us to rise to this challenge.”

Military v. climate security: U.S. and China worlds apart

Okay...a few serious issues with this article:


1. If China is far "ahead" of us in this arena; why was POLLUTION at the recent olympics such a huge concern. Truth is China has an enormous polltion problem and has systematically rejected or ignored western based standards of pollution control. Anyone remember the little issue of lead based toys a few years ago? If you want to use another country as an example of how we should be doing business, okay fine...BUT CHINA, REALLY????


2. Chineese Military Spending: China is rapidly expanding its military ability! They are modernizing every aspect of thier military and Chineese military spending has grown exponentiolly in the past decade and is expected to double (if not triple) in the next. Does anyone not think all that extra military hardware will create less pollution.


3. Free Markets: Shifting money from DoD to the EPA and DOE is down right foolish. You're comparing apples to rocks. The industries don't work the same way. The DoD IS the customer, it actuallys buys the things it needs from industry to use. Do you reallyu want the EPA/DOE to be the catalyst for environmental change? That's the best we can do? If the government wants to spur green job growth it needs to (a): Set higher standards thus forcing industry to invest in the technology and (b) create the economic/market environment by which green industries are encouraged to grow and thrive.


4. U.S. military spending: Like it or not we live in a very violent and unpredictable world. The bad guys don't care about our environmental concerns. I'm all about doing more to protect the environment but lets not be completely naive here. Making us less safe invites more conflict (see Germany 1939).  

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