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Make war for the environment

Last week, India voted against a resolution in the UN Security Council to allow the council’s core members to deliberate on climate issues because, in the resolution’s view, they impinge on national security. Russia and India, among others, voted ‘against’. Russia is a permanent member so its rejection sunk the idea; India’s rejection, on the other hand, turned out to be the most articulate – at least according to a video circulating on the web of India’s permanent representative T.S. Tirumurti delineating India’s stance. Senior Indian officials seldom have anything to say these days that’s working taking seriously; this was one of them. India’s position, according to the statement Tirumurti read out, was centered on the following point:

This draft resolution is a step backward from our collective resolve to combat climate change. It seeks to hand over that responsibility to a body which neither works through consensus nor is reflective of the interests of the developing countries. India had no option but to vote against.

Read Devirupa Mitra’s explanation of the significance of India’s vote here and Aathira Perinchery’s report on what climate policy researchers made of it here. Fundamentally, war gives rise to the most ridiculous ideas because war also gives rise to one of the most anti-democratic of what Lewis Mumford called the authoritarian technics: anti-accountable decision-making. In the context of India’s vote, arguments against the resolution were also rooted in the fact that one permanent member – the US of A – continues to drag its feet on useful climate action, especially domestic and international climate finance. As if to set the ground for the resolution, the US Department of Defence published a report in October this year that said:

The risks of climate change to Department of Defense (DoD) strategies, plans, capabilities, missions, and equipment, as well as those of U.S. allies and partners, are growing. Global efforts to address climate change – including actions to address the causes as well as the effects – will influence DoD strategic interests, relationships, competition, and priorities. To train, fight, and win in this increasingly complex environment, DoD will consider the effects of climate change at every level of the DoD enterprise.

While these may be legitimate considerations, holding closed-door meetings to, say, weaken climate action because doing otherwise could weaken national security – which, if India’s example is anything to go by, could be as arbitrary as you need it to be – would just be a backdoor that undermines already weak climate pacts and treaties. As Tirumurti said:

It sends a wrong message to the developing countries that instead of addressing their concerns and holding developed countries responsible for meeting their commitments under the UNFCCC, we are willing to be divided and side-tracked under the guise of security.

A less ridiculous but still precarious idea is that responding to climate-change-fuelled natural disasters could distract the armed forces from the training required to fight the country’s enemies abroad. While it’s reasonable to argue that there aren’t enough properly trained people to respond, specifically as first responders, to an extreme weather event, it’s hard to square America’s defence spending (and somewhere in there its Department of Defence being the world’s single-largest consumer of oil) with the view that such ‘distractions’ may cost American lives in wars abroad.

Fundamentally, including vis-à-vis the Security Council resolution, it would be a case of putting war before the climate. And now that I’ve put it that way – the most ridiculous examples I’ve come across of this variety (H/T to Samir Malhotra) is a research opportunity that the Small Business Innovation Research programme of the US government issued in 2017: bullets loaded with seeds that sprout plants once they have been in the ground for many months.

The US Army Corps of Engineers’ Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory (CRREL) has demonstrated bioengineered seeds that can be embedded into the biodegradable composites and that will not germinate until they have been in the ground for several months. This SBIR effort will make use of seeds to grow environmentally friendly plants that remove soil contaminants and consume the biodegradable components developed under this project. Animals should be able to consume the plants without any ill effects.

PHASE I: In Phase I the contractor develop a process to produce biodegradable composites with remediation seeds that can be used to manufacture 40mm-120mm training rounds. These Training rounds shall meet all the performance requirements of existing training rounds. The contractor should also explore avenues to produce biodegradable composites with remediation seeds for use in products outside the defense sector.

PHASE II: In Phase II the contractor will prove out the fabrication process and manufacture prototypes that demonstrate the process is ready for industrial use. Provide a sufficient number of prototypes for the government to perform ballistic tests.

PHASE III: Contractor will coordinate with PEO Ammunition and ammunition prime contractors to establish a transition path for the SBIR technology.

Paralleling its government’s viscous approach to international climate action, it seems like the American military establishment has also been looking for ways to make war for the environment.