By Lindsey Koshgarian and Aliyah Lusuegro / OtherWords
As the hottest summer in human history approached its end, tens of thousands of climate marchers rallied in New York to call for bold climate solutions. Meanwhile, lawmakers in Washington lurched toward another fight over the federal budget.
More than ever, the U.S. needs to get serious about climate. And to do that, we need to re-prioritize what’s in that budget.
As it stands, more than half of the discretionary budget that Congress allocates each year goes to the Pentagon. Until the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act last year, the average taxpayer gave $2,375 each year to the military — and just $6 to renewable energy projects.
The Inflation Reduction Act marked the most significant commitment to reducing fossil fuel emissions in U.S. history. But it still falls far short of the need if we are to avoid the most devastating effects of climate change.
Those ravages are already on display. In the United States, summer was a boiling cauldron of heat domes and wildfire smoke and awash with floods and tornadoes — all worsened by climate change. The deadliest wildfire in U.S. history claimed hundreds of lives in Maui.
The rest of the world suffered too.
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Normally temperate parts of Europe roasted in the heat. Thousands of people have died and gone missing in Libya, where whole communities were washed into the sea by flooding. At our southern border, migrants escaping climate chaos throughout our hemisphere are seeking refuge only to be preemptively denied an opportunity to apply for asylum — a violation of national and international law.
Climate change is making each of these human disasters deadlier and more frequent.
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the scale and horror of it all. But the U.S. is in a unique position to contribute to solutions. As the wealthiest country in the world, we have the resources and knowledge to lead the way. We also bear the responsibility of having released more fossil fuel emissions over our history than any other country.
Unfortunately, our anemic contributions to global climate programs fail to meet either the need or our responsibility for this great threat to world security. Instead, in the name of security, we throw hundreds of billions of dollars every year into war and weapons.
Worse still, the Pentagon itself is part of the problem. It’s the most carbon intensive institution in the world, responsible for 75 percent of federal government emissions. Boeing’s B-52 Stratofortress, for example, uses as much fuel in an hour as an average car driver consumes in seven years.
And the biggest Pentagon contractors emit even more than the Pentagon itself. Instead of looking for ways to reduce these emissions, some members of Congress are now making efforts to excuse Pentagon contractors from even reporting their emissions — a serious backstep in holding big-time industrial polluters accountable.
There can be no security without climate solutions. For our own safety and the world’s, we can and must do more. It’s time to reorder our federal budget priorities to address this global threat before it boils over any further.
Climate change is the fight of our lifetime. It’s time we spent our money like we knew that.
Lindsay Koshgarian is the Program Director of the National Priorities Project, where she oversees NationalPriorities.org. Lindsay’s work on the federal budget includes analysis of the federal budget process and politics, military spending, and specifically how federal budget choices for different spending priorities and taxation interact. A particular area of focus is how a decades-long policy of outsized military budgets has eroded political will to invest in opportunity and human potential through greater federal support of education, health care, infrastructure and more.
Alliyah graduated from Swarthmore College (Lenape land) with a B.A. in Environmental Studies and a double minor in Biology and Gender & Sexuality Studies. At Swarthmore, Alliyah co-led the Green Advisors in the Office of Sustainability, a group of students who promote sustainable practices on campus. She received the 2020 Campus Sustainability Champion award from Pennsylvania Environmental Resource Consumption for her advocacy of environmental justice in higher education sustainability. Alliyah is also a QuestBridge National College Match Scholar and an alum of the Doris Duke Conservation Scholars Program (DDCSP) at the University of Michigan, where she researched plankton health in the Great Lakes and air quality in Detroit, MI.