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the war on climate

Decades of research have shown that economic growth directly contributes to a rise in carbon emissions—the primary driver of the climate crisis. Yet, we know surprisingly little about what, and how, other related social forces mediate this dynamic. The authors of a new study, published in the American Sociological Review, identify militarization—the development and growth of national troops and arms—as central to this relationship, especially as states increasingly view climate change as a threat to national security.

Spanning 106 countries from 1990 to 2016, the authors’ novel dataset brings together measures of military expenditure and enrollment, GDP, and total and per capita carbon emissions at the national level. Using this dataset, Andrew K. Jorgenson and colleagues investigate whether, and how, militarization contours the relationship between economic growth and carbon emissions. They find that the bigger a nation’s military, the more economic growth drives carbon emissions. Conversely, the smaller the military, the less economic growth drives carbon emissions. To explain this, the authors highlight that heavily militarized states—like the United States and Russia—rely on their national forces for economic development and that militaries themselves are capital- and carbon-intensive organizations.

Today, many states have developed preparedness plans that rely heavily on militaries to respond to climate disasters. Despite this, in late 2021, when President Biden signed an Executive Order mandating the U.S. government achieve the goals of 100% carbon-free electricity by 2030 and net-zero emissions by 2050, he exempted any activity related to the military and national security. As the findings here show, relying on militarized responses to the climate emergency while exempting military activity from climate policy targets risks exacerbating the very issue world powers are trying to combat.

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