Columnist Marty Nathan: Cut military budget to save the climate


Published: 4/4/2018 8:31:31 PM

This week I received an email bulletin from an environmental organization that I love, asking me to call and thank Elizabeth Warren for her work on the “great” 2018 federal budget that the Congress recently passed.

Most Democrats, like Sen. Warren, for whom I have unbounded respect, declared the budget a victory because it did not defund the Environmental Protection Agency as President Donald Trump and Congressional Republicans had wanted.

I couldn’t do it. Because the budget isn’t great. It is disastrous.

From an environmental viewpoint, I don’t disagree that funding the EPA is absolutely needed, though I fully doubt that Scott Pruitt will use the money to clean our air, water or soil. Recently, the media discovered that he had instructed his staff to deny the scientific consensus about the role of human activity in creating climate change.

More important, though, the EPA win is dwarfed by the major appropriation that went by seemingly uncontested by either party: the military received a whopping $700 billion, the largest budget the Pentagon has ever seen.

The military and its wars matter to the climate and to the environment. The military, unlike the rest of society, does not have to account for its greenhouse gas emissions. It would have been forced to report to the United Nations for the first time under the Paris climate agreement, but the Trump administration has withdrawn, eliminating that potential step toward environmental transparency.

And, according to friend, environmental engineer and peace activist Patricia Hynes, “Militarism is the most oil-intensive activity on the planet, growing more so with faster, bigger, more fuel-guzzling planes, tanks, and naval vessels.” According to Hynes, oil is “the lifeblood” of the Pentagon, which has been estimated to consume a million gallons per day with resulting greenhouse gas emissions that constitute 5 percent of the world’s total.

The U.S. military is the largest institutional emitter in the world, larger than all but a few whole countries. And that assessment does not count the fossil fuels burned to create its weapons, planes and ships, or that consumed by the increasing number of private military contractors or those required to rebuild the towns, cities and societies that are destroyed in our seemingly endless wars.

We are in a daily worsening climate crisis caused by the buildup of those fossil fuel emissions in our atmosphere, warming the Earth and creating chaos in world weather systems. As a species, we must race to reduce emissions to zero to prevent the catastrophe associated with warming past 1.5 to 2 degrees.

We are losing the race. Instead of falling, global emissions rose last year. And no industrialized country is on course to fulfill its commitment to the Paris agreement. The future is looking grim unless we begin to approach this challenge as if our lives and future depend on it.

To increase the funding of the largest polluter in the world contradicts all our efforts to employ conservation, energy efficiency and renewable energy throughout the domestic economy. Further, it stimulates our enemies like China, Iran, Russia and North Korea to respond similarly, building and deploying more bombers, warships and bases as ours taunt them in naval and air exercises designed to threaten.

And the opportunity cost of such spending is devastating. Not only will the deficit created by military spending be the excuse for defunding Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, food stamps, public housing and welfare, it will also be the financial barrier to the transition to a renewable, sustainable economy.

What? You say you want more solar panels and wind turbines? Are you kidding? We have got to pay for upgrading our nuclear weapons! Get water, food and electricity to Puerto Ricans whose island has been devastated by climate change-driven Hurricane Maria? Sorry, there are Naval F-35s to build.

By no means am I saying that it is useless to pursue that greening of our domestic economy. I wholeheartedly urge you to go to the Massachusetts Energy Efficiency Advisory Council listening session at 6 p.m. Thursday at 1500 Main St. in Springfield. Demand that the Mass Save program to support home energy efficiency in our state be more widely available, more thorough and more transparent in its reporting. Or email your comments to or

Most environmentalists agree that we must do anything and everything to stop the steamroller of climate change. But we are shooting our Earth in the foot if we at the same time spend our tax dollars in increasing amounts on weapons used to control resources for corporate profit.

Just as human rights advocates have learned that they must oppose guns and their violence, we as defenders of a livable climate must by necessity be anti-militarist.

I suspect that progressives like Elizabeth Warren who voted for this budget believe that the Trump/Koch coalition is raining such horrors on our country that they must pick their battles in order to have any effectiveness at all. Opposing the military will provoke more right-wing backlash.

But with the alternative massive destruction caused by runaway climate change, it is a risk that we must take. To save the climate, cut the military budget.

Dr. Marty Nathan lives in Northampton and is a physician at BaystateBrightwood Health Center in Springfield. She is on the steering committee of Climate Action NOW and drinks coffee with She may be reached at

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