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Transnational Institute’s Nick Buxton explains how the world’s greatest CO2 emitter has gotten a free pass at climate negotiations since the 90’s

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JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore. With some 800 bases around the globe, it is no surprise that the U.S. military is the world’s biggest consumer of petroleum. What is perhaps more surprising is that this so-called carbon bootprint has been completely exempted from international climate agreements, including the one currently being finalized at COP21 Paris Climate Change Conference. To help us understand this phenomenon is our guest, Nick Buxton. He’s the communications manager for Transnational Institute, and recently wrote an essay titled The Elephant In Paris: The Military and Greenhouse Gas Emissions. Thanks for joining us, Nick. NICK BUXTON: Thank you, Jessica. DESVARIEUX: So Nick, let’s get right into it. How did the world’s largest CO2 emitter, the Pentagon, get exempt from international climate change agreements? You wrote that it all began in ’97, when the Kyoto Protocol came about, right? BUXTON: Yeah, that’s right. Gore Vidal was–I mean, Al Gore was, I mean, was negotiating that at the time. And the U.S. made two conditions that we [would] to sign the Kyoto Protocol. That was one of the first binding UN agreements on climate change. And they said one is that we would introduce carbon markets, that it would have to be a market-based mechanism for tackling climate change, and the other was that the military would be exempt. There was a lot of pressure from the U.S. military that we couldn’t constrain U.S. military interests in any way with climate change, so that they would have to be exempt. And they [inaud.] got both of those conditions into the agreement. And so though some military emissions will be covered by domestic, in terms of kind of domestic use, any international use of what’s called kind of bunker fuels, is not included in any of the reporting that goes on. And that applies not now, not just to the U.S., but to all the other governments. And it means it’s actually very difficult to tell how much it’s used in terms of kind of the military, and how much emissions they use. But we do know that the military is actually a very high use of fossil fuels. I mean, the F-16 jet, for example, uses in just one hour what an average car would use in three years in terms of fuel. And in 2012, when actually the Congress did a report, they found out the Pentagon was the single biggest user, using about 117 million barrels of oil every year. So we do know that it’s a very high user. And of course the U.S. is the biggest, but many nations have a very high carbon bootprint. DESVARIEUX: But Nick, some might argue that the U.S. has a right to defend itself and protect its interests abroad, and it needs that robust military, that you can use its full capacity at any moment. So should the focus really be on making the Pentagon go green instead of trying to impose strict limits on its emissions? BUXTON: Well, there have been–I mean, this has been a major concern for the military. The U.S. military. It’s because they are so dependent on fossil fuels. It’s actually made their military kind of adventures, you call adventures or conquests, or various interventions that are going on in places like Afghanistan, very difficult. One of their biggest obsessions now is how do we protect the convoys? Because the convoys are very vulnerable, oil convoys, going into Afghanistan, to attacks. So they started to talk about greening the military. It’s not really because they’re interested in environmental issues, but more how do we actually sustain this huge military. Like you mentioned, there’s 800 bases around the world. The U.S. really has a huge empire of projection of force around the world. And that’s a very costly thing, and also a very difficult thing to fund. And so they’re starting to green themselves mainly just to keep themselves in business. DESVARIEUX: Let’s talk about the interest involved in wanting to keep the Pentagon in business and still reliant on fossil fuels. Is there a connection between the military-industrial complex thriving and our dependency on fossil fuels here in America? BUXTON: There’s a huge amount. I mean, the military–it’s well known that the U.S. military-industrial complex, first kind of announced by Eisenhower, is very much alive here. They have a presence in each congressional district. Any time there’s attempts to cut back it means that each congressional representative is kind of pushing against cuts. And so they’re being very strategic about maintaining that. And we also see how security and bombing is kind of promoted as the response to any social and environmental issue. So Syria, a very messy conflict, where all the evidence is that bombing will actually create more terrorists, is now being pushed as the main–as the main response for what’s happening in Syria. And the first profits, you know, the stock market of the arms companies were the first to rise when the attacks happened in Paris. Because suddenly they see any potential conflict as a profit opportunity. And that’s even happening with climate change. That’s my concern. In our new book, Securing the Dispossessed, we look at how climate change has now been turned into a national security threat. So suddenly the victims of climate change are no longer victims. They’re threats to national security. So this, this is really happening, increasingly, that complex social and environmental conflicts are being turned into security threats. And it’s not just leading to a huge growth of the military-industrial complex. I’d also add it’s the military-industrial-security complex. Because of course after 9/11, the security industry, the Homeland Security industry, has grown massively as well, by about 5 percent every single year. And that’s the kind of surveillance that goes on, it’s the militarization we see in the streets like Ferguson. It’s the huge private security industries that are all thriving under this real paradigm of fear and insecurity. And that’s, that’s a real problem, because it’s actually exacerbating the crisis we face rather than resolving them. DESVARIEUX: All right. Let’s talk about how we resolve these crises again, Nick. What do you think everyday people can really do to change this paradigm? And let’s talk about COP21. What should have come out of it if we really wanted to focus on the military and their carbon bootprint? BUXTON: Well, I think the first thing is you’ve got to include all the emissions. So the military can’t be exempted. Neither can other areas. Aviation and shipping are not included in the current, in the current emissions negotiations that happened in Paris. So we’ve got to start to include everything, and we’ve got to say that we have got a certain amount of carbon that we can burn. We have to leave fossil fuels in the ground. That has to be the bottom line solution. We have to have much more active state intervention of actually moving to a renewable economy. We can’t leave it to market mechanisms and to kind of short-term and really incremental solutions, because we have a crisis and we need to tackle that very radically. So that has to be the first step. Then I think the second step in terms of kind of non-military solutions, we look at this through areas like water and energy and food. They’re all being framed as security issues. But really they are about human rights. And how do we, in a time of climate change which will affect people and will cause vulnerable populations to be even more vulnerable, how do we protect their rights to food, water, and [energy]? And increasingly really it’s around sovereignty and democracy. There’s huge debates going on at the moment around finance. How do we support the poorest countries with the money they’re going to need both to adapt to climate change and also move their economies to low-carbon economies. The big debate is around mobilizing $100 billion, and the richest countries are not delivering that money. Well, we spend $1.7-1.8 trillion on military spending. So if you just actually released, reduced our spending by 10 percent, not a large amount, and we would actually mobilize almost double what is currently not being put on the table at Paris. So this is another solution, really. If we have to tackle the causes of climate change, then we need to deliver the finance, and actually reinvesting the [money] from the military would be a key way of doing that. DESVARIEUX: All right. Nick Buxton, joining us from California. Thank you so much for being with us. BUXTON: Thank you, Jessica. DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.


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Nick Buxton is Communications Manager at the Transnational Institute and editor of the book The Secure and the Dispossessed: How the Military and Corporations are shaping a climate-changed World published in November 2015.