Climate change, not war, is the greatest security threat

March 16, 2022
The major parties pretend that the climate emergency is not the most pressing security concern for Australia. Photo: Markus Spiske/Pexels

The people of northern New South Wales and Queensland who have been hit hard by extreme flooding are the latest causalities of catastrophic climate change.

The devastating floods should be a wake-up call for politicians to deal with the greatest existential threat humanity has ever faced. Instead, they are finger-pointing about which agency should have done more to warn residents, or help with the clean-up.

We know that human-induced climate change is behind the Black Summer bush fires and these catastrophic floods.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in February affirmed this when it said: “Human-induced climate change is causing dangerous and widespread disruption in nature and affecting the lives of billions of people around the world, despite efforts to reduce the risks.”

With a federal election looming, the major parties are desperate to look the other way. Prime Minister Scott Morrison and opposition leader Anthony Albanese are more comfortable to talk about “national security” rather than tackle the question of how to rapidly draw down the use of fossil fuels over the next few years. They prefer talking about how Australia needs to prepare for a world of conflict, rather than how we can best mitigate the worst impacts of climate change.

Morrison has pitched his new funding announcement for a bigger Australian Defence Force as being about the “uncertain global environment”. He has also committed, as a part of AUKUS, billions of dollars to build a nuclear submarine base on the east coast.

Australia is not alone: Western governments are using Russia’s invasion to ramp up military spending.

The government’s focus on the need to ramp up “defence” spending for national security reasons is being challenged by security experts who say the biggest threat to Australia is extreme weather events.

Retired admiral Chris Barrie told ABC Radio National on March 10 that Australia doesn’t have any direct enemies and that climate change is the biggest threat to Australia’s security.

Barrie is not a climate scientist, nor is he a radical. He’s a former chief of the ADF and a plain speaker.

“As far as I’m concerned we’re on a hiding to nothing when it comes to extreme weather events … I’ve got an office full of publications from the UK and the US on how they are looking at climate change and what it’s going to do … We’ve lagged behind, seriously,” he told Radio National.

Barrie said politicians may think this is a national security election, but it is really about leadership on climate change, or the lack of it.

He cited the Missing in Action report, released by the Australian Security Leaders Climate Group last year, which called on governments to prepare a climate and security plan “starting with a realistic assessment of the risks”.

“Our leaders have failed us, failed our community,” Barrie told Radio National, “because we have so much to do on climate change”.

The government’s focus on militarism may come back to bite it as we are forced to pay more for fuel and people affected by the floods struggle to get their insurance claims assessed.

While we oppose Russia’s war in the Ukraine, we also need to point out the government’s hypocrisy on “good” wars and “bad” wars.

Apart from the sheer destruction of people’s lives and livelihoods, war is also a huge emitter of carbon. Since the “war on terror” began in 2001, the US military has emitted more carbon, it is estimated, than Portugal or Denmark.

We oppose the war in Ukraine, and we also oppose the major parties’ embrace of a khaki election campaign including a nuclear submarine base in either Brisbane, Newcastle or the Illawarra.

The Ukrainian arm of the Fridays for Future group, which has taken a stand against the war and against climate change, is an example of the kind of people-powered movement we need to build here if we are going to force the major parties to act on the biggest security threat — climate change.

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