War, climate catastrophe and capitalist profiteering

April 18, 2022
War and climate change are linked. Photo: Pixabay

Economics editor for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age Ross Gittins summed up how capitalism views the world, saying on April 8, that “economists don’t see evil, or pain, or any emotion”.

He was referring to economists who promote the system that reduces people to commodities. These same people “simply size up wars and natural disasters for the effect they’ll have on the economy, measured by inflation, unemployment and above all, gross domestic product”, he said on April 8.

These brutal truths were further clarified by Gittins who said “the arrival of World War II helped end the Great Depression. And rebuilding bombed out Europe and Japan after the war helped the rich countries grow faster than ever before — or since".

There is no better example of capitalism’s callous disregard for people than to suggest that the deaths of 70–80 million people was an opportunity for economic growth and prosperity.

The global population at the time of that war was between 2–3 billion people. Between 3–4% of people died to allow rich countries’ economies to grow.

The global population is now 8 billion. Capitalism would be more than willing to again sacrifice 3.5% of the population — 280 million people — for the economic opportunity presented by rebuilding after another war.

That presupposes that any future global war would not grow into a nuclear war. That is a foolish supposition given that the United States is spending US$1 trillion on upgrading its nuclear capability and producing “low-yield” nuclear weapons for more localised conflicts.

That grim proposition must be considered alongside the climate emergency that capitalism has created: the toll on humanity and the planet is almost impossible to quantify.

The climate disaster and the potential destruction of hundreds of millions of lives in another major war are linked, and the link is capitalism. If war and the deaths of millions can deliver opportunities for profit, the same logic Gittins spoke of operates to destroy the planet through climate change.

War and climate change are linked: one cannot be solved without solving the other, and neither can be resolved by capitalism. Because this is all too obvious, a lot of time and effort is spent on obscuring the truth.

Last year, United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) president Alok Sharma optimistically stated that “countries are turning their back on coal". There had been a debate as to whether coal and fossil fuels should be “phased down” or “phased out”.

Globally, coal use has surged from the COP26 meeting to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Coal-fired power in the US was higher last year under President Joe Biden than it had been during the Donald Trump presidency.

Dieter Helm of Oxford University noted in the Financial Times that “energy transition was already in trouble — 80 per cent of the world’s energy is still from fossil fuels”. He said “the US will increase oil and gas output and EU coal consumption could increase” in the short term.

As British Marxist economist Michael Roberts pointed out, the problem is “the West”. “The mature capitalist economies, that have built up the stock of dangerous carbon and other gases in the atmosphere over the last 100 years which are doing the least to solve the climate crisis. About one-third of the current stock of greenhouse gases has been created by Europe and one-quarter by the US.”

Just 100 capitalist companies account for 71% of all global emissions. And while capitalism destroys the planet, the armed forces of capitalist states are among the worst polluters. The US army, for example, is the biggest single global consumer of oil. Every year the Pentagon’s greenhouse gas emissions add up to more than 59 million metric tons of carbon dioxide. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists in 2014, if the US military was a nation state, it would be the 47th largest emitter in the world, ahead of Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development member countries Portugal, Sweden, and Denmark.

The US war machine, we’re told, exists to “protect” and promote “national interests”. This has increasingly come to mean protecting US interests in, and access to, fossil fuel resources anywhere in the world.

The US’ military doctrine explicitly states it must remain “the pre-eminent military power in the world” and that the world should be organised in a way “that is most conducive to our security and prosperity … and preserve access to markets”. This allows the US military to grow and, as it grows, to destroy the planet.

The Cost of Wars Project recently reported that the total greenhouse gas emissions from war-related activity in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria was more than 400 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide.

A rise in spending on weapons leads to more wars. The destruction cannot just be measured by the ferocity of battles, battlefield casualties, the slaughter of innocents or the destruction of cities and infrastructure. It must also be measured by the degree the climate disaster is made worse.

Aspirants for Australia’s prime ministership speak with one voice when it comes to committing billions of dollars to the militarisation of the region and the world. They are as one in promoting arms’ spending and only compete with each other as to who is the more sycophantic and reliable supporter of US imperialism. Neither are advancing solutions to stop the rise in fossil fuel use. They cannot, because corporations demand profits be made.

The best Prime Minister Scott Morrison can offer is a vague claim that science will find the way forward. The 10, 20 or 30 years for panaceas to be developed will mean devastation.

Another plan must be considered: another world must be imagined and fought for. To keep on accepting the logic of capitalist economists who “simply size up wars and natural disasters for the effect they’ll have on the economy, measured by inflation, unemployment and above all, gross domestic product” will literally cost the Earth.

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