Vets Push “No War, No Warming” Climate Campaign Amid Russian Invasion of Ukraine

Antiwar and progressive veterans organizations across the country are marking the first Earth Day after the United States’ withdrawal from Afghanistan and Russia’s subsequent invasion of Ukraine by highlighting the ways in which militarism fuels the global climate emergency, and how the planetary crisis, in turn, impacts service members.

The U.S.’s role as the world’s largest weapons dealer, they say, is bad for the planet. True climate action means, according to them, ending new weapons shipments in Ukraine and instead strengthening diplomatic channels to a negotiated resolution to the conflict.

Echoing Earth Day’s historically antiwar roots, they are pressuring Congress members to pass a new climate and social spending package, and fund a just transition away from fossil fuels that includes good jobs for impoverished veterans and fossil fuel-sector workers. They claim that such a plan would also guarantee energy independence from petrostate dictators, like Russian President Vladimir Putin. They are also urging politicians to address land pollution caused by U.S. military bases all over the world and support a Department of Defense accounting. This will help reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.

West Virginia is a state that has one of the most prestigious universities in the country. highest densities of veterans and rates of veteran povertyIn the country, climate justice organizers from the progressive veterans group Common Defense met Sen. Joe Manchin (and his staff) to encourage them to support legislation that would provide green jobs for West Virginian vets who are low-income.

Manchin, who chairs the powerful Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, has gained almost total control over the future of U.S. climate policy as a key swing vote in Democrats’ narrowly controlled 50-50 Senate. He used this power to sink President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better climate and social spending bill in December by announcing his opposition on Fox News.

Since then, the West Virginia senator has reopened negotiations on a smaller, party line reconciliation package that would use budget process to bypass a Republican filibuster. His legislative framework would take an “all-of-the-above” approach to energy policy that would include using tax breaks to push up to $555 billion in clean energy subsidies while also rolling back Republicans’ 2017 tax cuts and reforming prescription drug pricing. Under Manchin’s plan, half of the revenue generated would go toward reducing the federal deficit and inflation.

Lakiesha L. Lloyd, Common Defense Climate Justice Organizer, tells Truthout veterans want to see a portion of the $555 billion clean energy investments go toward workforce development programs and training for veterans and fossil fuel-sector workers in West Virginia — and has told Senator Manchin’s staff as much.

Lloyd, a former military police officer and Army specialist who lived in Charleston, West Virginia from 2001 to 2010, said that she has seen firsthand the difficulties veterans face in transitioning out of the armed forces to the civilian workforce. She and her children had to move in with their mother after she was discharged. She couldn’t find work that would provide her with enough income to support her family and pay rent and utilities.

“Historically here in the state, you only had two choices: It was either going to the mines, or go into the military if you wanted a decent living,” she tells Truthout. Sometimes it was both. Her grandfather, who had returned from World War II, went to work in a West Virginia coalmine, she said.

The latest United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is now available reportWarning that global greenhouse gas emissions must peak by 2025 in order to keep the planet from warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, as per the Paris Agreement (1.5).°C)Lloyd believes that both veterans and coal miners require a path to transition. The languishing climate provisions in the reconciliation bill could help them.

Common Defense organizers have had at least three climate-focused meetings with Manchin’s staff since the creation of the organization’s climate justice program this year, and while the campaign is still a work in progress, Lloyd says their conversations thus far have been “productive.” Moreover, she says, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has helped energize the discussions, since Manchin has signaled an openness to renewable energy jobs being part of an “all-of-the-above” strategy for energy independence from Russian oil and gas.

Lloyd, however, expressed concern about the Biden administration’s recent reversals on prior climate commitments, including its announcement of a joint U.S.-European Union energy security deal to increase so-called liquefied natural gas (LNG) extraction and infrastructure buildout to boost fracked gas shipments to Europe, as well as this week’s resumption of onshore oil and gas lease salesOn public lands.

Those moves come as the administration weighs which pro-extraction policies can win over Senator Manchin’s support after he asked the administration for concessionsoil and gas drilling, including the return to offshore leasing in the Gulf of Mexico as well as increased LNG exports.

Manchin’s family business, a coal waste plant in Grant Town West Virginia, makes him nearly $500,000 a calendar year. TruthoutAs previously reported by the Washington Post, nearly 400 West Virginia climate activists blocked access to this month. He is still the top congressional recipient for campaign contributions from the fossil fuel sector, collecting nearly $743,000This election cycle.

Lloyd claims that veterans still have the unique leverage to push Manchin towards climate action. Common Defense organizers have been highlighting the ways the climate emergency impacts military personnel by fueling domestic climate disasters in the U.S. and by exacerbating wars around the globe — both to which service members are routinely deployed. These realities are being highlighted by veterans as they push for workforce development for veterans who want to leave the military and transition into green jobs.

Meanwhile, veterans who oppose war with Veterans for Peace (VFP), CODEPINK and CODEPINK used Earth Week for a way to emphasize how important it is to be a peacemaker. U.S. tax dollars fund both war and environmental destruction. The groups joined Extinction Rebellion NYC, a climate group focused on using civil disobedience to provoke policy change, in organizing a nonviolent direct action in Manhattan’s Financial District on Tax Day, Monday. Putting the connection between militarism and the climate crisis on full display, marchers chanted, “No War, No Warming” while several protesters locked themselves to two 15-foot tripods. At least nine people were taken into custody.

In addition to spotlighting how the U.S. funnels more than half of its federal budget to the Pentagon, veterans and environmental activists say the action was also in opposition to the U.S. military’s role as the world’s single-largest institutional consumer of fossil fuels. The military has been accounted for 77 to 80 percent of federal energy use since 2001, it continues to remain exempt from President Biden’s executive order to cut government emissions in order to reach 100 percent clean electricity by 2030 and net-zero emissions by 2050.

To make matters worse, President Biden’s Fiscal Year 2023 Pentagon budget blueprint requests a record $813.3 billion in military spending, a $31 billion increase from the current level. However, the budget proposal does not include any definitive plansto reduce carbon emissions related national security, combat, and military training. In fact, the U.S. military fails to even account for or publicly report its overall fuel consumption or greenhouse gas emissions — despite requirements to do so laid out in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2021.

Research shows that the U.S. military produces approximately 59 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually — more greenhouse gas emissions than industrialized countries including Sweden, Denmark and Portugal. The fact that the Defense Department doesn’t report its own emissions and has no decarbonization targets is something VFP National President Susan Schnall, who helped organize the Tax Day protest, says her organization wants to change.

Schnall was a Navy nurse who served from 1967 to 1969. She was court-martialed during that time for anti-Vietnam War activity. Truthout the organization’s relatively new Climate Crisis & Militarism Projectis pressing Congress members to support the bill and cosponsor it House Resolution 767The Pentagon would be required to monitor, track, and report on greenhouse gas emissions from all of its operations.

The bill was introduced in the House in November 2021 and is being sponsored by Rep. Barbara Lee. It also requires that the Defense Department set annual greenhouse gas emission targets for both domestic operations and foreign operations in accordance with the Paris Agreement limit.°C. It also commits the Defense Department, in accordance to the science-based emission goals set out in the NDAA Fiscal Year 2022, to reduce the overall environmental impacts of all military activities. Representatives Pramila Jayapal, Mondaire Jones, Ro Khanna and Rashida Tlaib are among the resolution’s cosponsors.

Schnall says Truthout H.R. 767 has become even more important after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and President Biden’s announcement Thursday of an additional $800 million in military and weapons aidto the country. Biden had already approved approximately $2.6 billion in military aid. Schnall believes that even moderate cuts in U.S. military expenditures could be enough to free up enough resources for sustainable development and fighting the climate crisis.

Beyond its arms dealing, Schnall and other VFP organizers say it’s imperative that the Defense Department account for the environmental impacts of its nearly 800 U.S. military bases around the world, as well as for the environmental devastation wrought by its use of chemicals like Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS), Agent Orange and depleted uranium, as well as its use of toxic burn pitsThey have also harmed GIs who fought in Afghanistan and Iraq. Another major focus of VFP’s Climate Crisis & Militarism Project is, of course, the environmental and planetary dangers posed by nuclear weapons armaments, she says.

“Every year we hear that we’re on the edge of climate catastrophe from which there would be no return, and it feels like today we certainly are, both in terms of our war-causing extraction and our extraction-causing wars,” Schnall tells Truthout. “The greed of these major international industries and corporations — I feel like it’s trite to say it’s astounding, but it indicates absolutely no concern at all for the future or for humans, just greed for money and profits.”

Raytheon and Lockheed Martin are weapons manufacturers that have already made a fortune from the conflict in Ukraine. This is not just because they are getting direct arms transfers to the country, but also because of the lucrative deals with the General Dynamics. Pentagon’s Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative and the State Department’s Foreign Military Financingboth of which finance U.S. weapons and military training. Arms contractors can expect additional profits as they work to restock depleted Defense Department inventories, which lawmakers dedicated $3.5 billion of its Ukraine spending package to — $1.75 billionAbove and beyond what the president requested.

Antiwar and GI activists argue that pouring weapons into Ukraine not only closes off prospects for peace, it also continues to accelerate the climate emergency by inflating national military budgets and arms contractors’ bottom lines, reinforcing and expanding a military-industrial complex that is the single biggest institutional driver of the climate emergency.

Yet U.S. military assistance to Ukraine continues to enjoy support among many progressives, antiwar veterans say — including some within the climate and environmental justice movement. That’s something Ramon Mejia, anti-militarism national organizer at Grassroots Global Justice Alliance, plans to warn against on Saturday as a keynote speaker at the Green New Deal Network’s Earth Week mobilization, Fight For Our Future. Mejia, a member also of About Face Veterans Against War, served as a Corporal in the Marine Corps, 2001-2004, and was deployed to Iraq 2003.

He says Truthout he hopes to push conservation and environmental justice organizations to take firmer anti-militarist positions on U.S. foreign policy — including positions against additional arms shipments that will prolong the conflict in Ukraine and potentially imperil efforts at diplomacy.

Environmentalist collaboration with anti-militarist efforts isn’t a given: Mejia points out that some environmentalists are taking approaches that are complicit with militarism. The Sierra Club is one example. recently reinstatedAfter being pressured by pro-Israeli organizations, several scheduled trips to Israel. Pro-Palestinian activists had previously successfully pressed the group to nix the trips, arguing they help to “greenwash Israel’s system of apartheid.”

“We have to be straight across the board and engage in every which way,” Mejia tells Truthoutreferring to the environmental movement. “We can’t be hypocritical about it. We can’t be like, picking and choosing when we engage and when we don’t.”

Mejia suggests that climate justice groups should not support weapons shipments but instead focus on diplomatic channels and humanitarian aid to support refugees and those displaced in Ukraine.

As part of its “No War, No Warming” campaign, Grassroots Global Justice Alliance is joining veterans groups in pressuring members of Congress support H.R. 767 and reduce the military’s overall size, including closing overseas bases and rehabilitating the land and transitioning it to community use. The campaign is urging lawmakers to redirect Pentagon, policing, and arms funding to life-affirming social spending, community resources, as well as ban weapons manufacturing and the production nuclear weapons. Mejia says that the campaign targets congressional sponsors of Green New Deal to highlight the importance to include the military in any plans to transition to clean energy.

Mejia said that the history behind the first Earth Day in 1970, where organizers first modeled a national, environmental-focused teach-in upon similar teach-ins on college campuses debating Vietnam War, emphasizes the need to bring together antiwar and environmental movements and strengthen the connections between their struggles.

“Earth Day is a bridge between movements and a bridge between communities to say that we all inhabit this this world. If we want to leave a better world after we transition, then we have to build movements across struggles,” Mejia says. “The systems that seek to harm us are intersectional, and we have to be an intersectional movement that bridges across the struggles we are fighting, whether they present as imperialism, capitalism or extractivism…. So it’s important that we continue to carry on [Earth Day’s] legacy.”

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