Tuesday, June 23, 2009

"Start with the easy bits: war toys"

By George Monbiot / theGuardian

What would we be doing now if we took climate change seriously? Last week the government released a report on the likely temperature changes in the UK. It shows that life at the end of this century will bear no relationship to life at the beginning. It should have dominated the news for days. But it was too far away, too remote from current problems, too big to see.

Over the past few months Lord Giddens, one of the architects of New Labour, has been touting the hypothesis that people are reluctant to act on climate change until it becomes visible to them, by which time it will be too late...

So environmentalists seek to persuade us that we'll love the green transition. Downshifting, voluntary simplicity, alternative hedonism – whatever they call it, it's presented as a change for the better. A new green deal will save the planet, the workforce and the economy. Energy efficiency will protect the bottom line as well as the biosphere. A less frantic life will allow us to enjoy the small wonders that surround us.

There is both exaggeration and truth in all this, but effective action also involves a change for the worse: regulation, rationing, austerity, state spending. "Little by little," the Roman historian Livy wrote 2,000 years ago, "we have been brought into the present condition in which we are able neither to tolerate the evils from which we suffer, nor the remedies we need to cure them."

Everything we need to do has been made harder by debt. Net state debt now exceeds £700bn. The RBS and Lloyds shambles will add between £1 trillion and 1.5tn. National debt is likely to reach 150% of GDP next year: well beyond the point at which the IMF declares developing countries basket cases.

This introduces two environmental problems. The first is that there is no money left with which to fund a green new deal. The second is that we'll be able to pay off these debts only by resuming economic growth. Greenhouse gases grow because the economy grows. The UK's liabilities make the transition to a steady state economy, let alone a managed contraction, much harder to achieve. They appear to commit us to either growth or default for at least a generation. The debt crisis is an environmental disaster...

At the end of 2003, the Ministry of Defence observed that "there are currently no major conventional military threats to the UK or Nato … it is now clear that we no longer need to retain a capability against the re-emergence of a direct conventional strategic threat". So why is most of this ministry's budget spent on retaining a capability against the emergence of a direct conventional strategic threat?

To read the MoD's spending stats is to read the accounts of a lost world: a faraway land where threats and funds are unlimited. Its private finance initiative service charges (£1.3bn) exceed the entire budget of the ­department of energy and climate change. The department for international development could be funded twice over from the MoD's budget for capital charges and depreciation (£9.6bn). Property management sucks up £1.5bn a year, consultants and lawyers £470m, bullets, bombs and the like, £650m.

What does it give us? Our wars make us less safe. We would be better protected from terrorism and global instability if the UK's armed forces stopped going abroad to make trouble. No one in office can produce a coherent account of why this money is needed: the ministry's budget is sustained by the greed of contractors and nostalgia for imperium long passed. We could cut defence spending by 90% and suffer no loss to our national security. Instead, the MoD has just dropped its spending on climate change research. This accounted for a quarter of the Met Office's climate programme.

The last time we faced a crisis on the scale of the global climate crash, the rational solution was to build tanks. Now the rational, least painful solution is to stop building tanks, and use the money to address a real threat.
And the US spends astronomically more on defense.... not only would it free up money - war toys suck up and spew vast amounts of oil/carbon dioxide, etc.

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