Green markets or gun markets

David Watson writes on weapons, wars and climate change for Blog Action Day on Climate Change – 15 October 2009.

On 14 October, BBC’s Newsnight asked the question “Can you be green and capitalist?”

Simon Retallack, associate director at the centre-left think tank, the Institute for Public Policy Research, was asked how best to fight climate change. He rejected an approach based on changing people’s values, saying: “I worry that the [anti-consumerist] approach gets in the way of putting in place some consumerist approaches to solving some of these problems that doesn’t (sic) entail trying to engineer changing people’s values.”

The interviewer didn’t ask Retallack if not changing our values meant we could continue to support wars and military occupations in strategically important locations.

Neither did he offer an opinion on whether this meant that the UK and the US could carry on spending so much of their stretched budgets subsidising their arms industries. Subsidising the arms industry, perpetrating wars and (in the USA) allowing liberal personal ownership of small arms are all totally incompatible, not only with the ethics espoused by our leaders, but are deeply damaging the fight against climate change.

We should at least mention the astronomical waste of financial resources that could be used in providing real security for everyone. Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel Laureate in economics, says that a conservative estimate of the cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars would be $3 trillion. And that is only the sum for the USA.

Although we know how many of our own armed forces have died in Iraq (179 UK troops and 4,331 US troops) and Afghanistan (221 and 796 to date), we have no idea how many of the indigenous people in those countries have died. Rather than spending all this money paying our armies to destroy these countries, could we not have spent money on developing technology for renewable energy?

Some may dismiss such pleas as facile, but they are not looking at the real long-term picture. Our resources on this planet are finite, and as we needlessly spend energy and resources manufacturing arms and killing people (mostly in their own countries), we are exhausting those resources while the arms manufacturers laugh their way to the bank.

Enormous resources are spent manufacturing weapons that can destroy bridges, power stations and other types of infrastructure. We know that lucrative contracts are given out (usually to Western firms), to rebuild the countries once they have a “co-operative government” in place. Nobody counts the carbon cost of these rebuilding projects either.

Meanwhile at home, governments are all ears to the pathetic pleas of arms manufactuers for more subsidies. Government-backed insurance, government-sponsored R&D and generous military procurement policies – all underwritten by hard-pressed taxpayers. United Kingdom Trade & Investment (UKTI) even has a separate department, the invidiously titled Defence & Security Organisation (DSO) whose sole purpose is to promote British arms exports.

It would seem, however, that our governments’ own advisers also agree that our leaders have a warped sense of priorities. Sir David King, the government’s own adviser on scientific matters until 2008, was explicit in the threat posed by climate change, and so too, even more remarkably, was the Pentagon, who have predicted a state of anarchy if something is not done to stop it.

On the Newsnight programme, the Conservative party’s Zak Goldsmith declared: “the market is absolutely fundamental, I don’t think you can have a solution that doesn’t involve the market.”

Newsnight’s presenter, Emily Maitlis, neglected to ask him if he supported the Conservative party’s recent proclamation that they will give the UK arms industry more support.

If the Pentagon is correct in its predictions and our leaders fail to take the necessary measures to preserve the planet, a hundred years from now, our great-grandchildren may be asking not what terrorism is, but what markets were.

CAAT would not exist without its supporters. Each new supporter helps us strengthen our call for an end to the international arms trade.

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