US Spends $88 on the Military for Every Buck Fighting Climate Change
By Kevin Tillman, AlterNet
Posted on January 31, 2008, Printed on February 2, 2008

A few days ago, a Spanish reader made his way through a story about these primary-related gender wars we're fighting, and had a suggestion. "I think you all must go to the shrink," he wrote, "in a kind of collective, nationwide, psychoanalysis."
Some support for that view surfaced this week, as the Institute for Policy Studies released a new report by Miriam Pemberton titled "Military vs. Climate Security." Pemberton found that for each dollar the U.S. government spends on fighting global warming, it throws $88 at the military. It's a stunning -- and telling --ratio, but it's not the whole story; according to the report, "even the modest $7 billion in the federal climate change budget is badly targeted toward what ought to be low priorities, while major climate priorities get short shrift."
The shocking thing is that the 88:1 ratio is actually an improvement over recent years; from the report:

Releasing its latest report to Congress on federal climate spending, the Bush administration highlighted the fact that during the previous five years it had spent more than $37 billion for this purpose. During the same period, it spent more than $3.5 trillion on its military forces. That means:

During the last five years the ratio of military security to climate security spending has averaged 97 to 1.
The government is allocating 99% of combined federal spending on military and climate security to military security.
The U.S. government budgeted $20 to develop new weapons systems for every dollar it requested to develop new technologies to stabilize the climate.
We will devote 50 times as much to arming the rest of the world as to helping it prepare for and avoid global climate catastrophe.

I know those Canadians have been looking sideways at us lately, and I'm as nervous as the next guy about their intentions, but, really, in a world without a conventional (nation-state) enemy, these numbers are signs of a nationwide, bipartisan mental illness.
It's all the more so given that the military itself sees global warming as a potential security threat. As the Washington Post reported last spring:

[A new report by the US Army war College] lays out a detailed case for how global warming could destabilize vulnerable states in Africa and Asia and drive a flood of migrants to richer countries. It focuses on how climate change "can act as a threat multiplier for instability in some of the most volatile regions of the world," in part by causing water shortages and damaging food production.

"Many developing nations do not have the government and social infrastructures in place to cope with the type of stressors that could be brought about by global climate change," the report states. "When a government can no longer deliver services to its people, ensure domestic order, and protect the nation's borders from invasion, conditions are ripe for turmoil, extremism and terrorism to fill the vacuum."

A good argument can be made that conservatives' greatest rhetorical victory in recent years has been their ability to shift the discourse about the role of government from whether it's performing effectively or not to a debate -- an artificial one in many ways -- about whether it should be "big" or "small." Progressives usually respond to conservatives' claims that they're better fiscal managers with a fact-based argument, noting that it's been the Democrats who have controlled federal spending over the past 40 years, while Republicans have truly gone on a bender worthy of that proverbial drunken sailor. Paleo-conservative Richard Viguerie -- a critic of Bush from the right -- uses these numbers in his book, Conservatives Betrayed:
Inflation-adjusted growth in federal expenditures:
Nixon/Ford … 14.1%
Carter … 13.1%
Reagan … 9.7%
Bush I … 13.4 %
Clinton … 4.2%
Bush II … 19.2% (through 2005)
I've always thought that a better approach is to confront the premise of the big/small government debate head-on by stating what should be obvious: government should be no bigger than needed to accomplish the tasks people want it to do, and the question of whether a government is doing that effectively or not is really the only issue that matters. Forget about big and small -- good governance should be the goal on which everyone agrees.
Ultimately, the question of priorities is inseparable from that discussion. In a world of finite resources, how are our tax dollars being spent? This latest study offers some insight into that question, and the results aren't encouraging.

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Joshua Holland is an editor and senior writer at AlterNet.

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