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Climate Hawks and Enviro-Drones: Greenwashing Imperialism?

Sunset stroll

In addition to our War on Drugs and War on Terror, we now have a War on Climate Change. BPFers with interests in anti-militarization and environmental issues will want to read Turtles and Tomahawk Missiles, Together at Last? War is Not the Answer to Climate Change by Cyril Mychalejko.

Some environmental groups have embraced militarized language and weaponry as the most skillful means to care for our world. Enviro-drones are a new re-purposing of the unmanned military weapon. The World Wildlife Federation, with financial help from Google, is planning to use drones to track poachers in Africa. A climate hawk is a tough dude (emphasis on a militarized masculinity):

The health of Mother Earth just doesn’t move that many people. For better or worse, more Americans respond to evocations of toughness in the face of a threat. In foreign policy a hawk is someone who, as Donald Rumsfeld used to put it, ‘leans forward,’ someone who’s not afraid to flex America’s considerable muscle – Grist staff writer David Roberts, in his October 2010 column, Introducing ‘climate hawks’

Ready to jump

U.S. Soldiers prepare to jump out of an aircraft during a “forcible entry” exercise. Photo: Tech. Sgt. DeNoris A. Mickle

Do we believe that a militarized War on Climate Change is really about saving the planet? Mychalejko makes the case that this is just a painted-green excuse for the mighty militarized force of U.S. imperialism to deepen its reach. He describes the military’s narrow interests in climate change:

  • We need to combat climate change because the rising tides threaten our coastal military bases.
  • We must protect our borders from an influx of “climate refugees.”
  • We need greater military presence in “unstable” regions like Africa where global warming will hit hardest, and existing tensions will be exacerbated.

Environmentalists who have not integrated racial and economic justice into their work are more easily swayed by a “security” framing of the dangers of climate change:

“It’s dangerous that some liberal environmentalists bought into this climate conflict narrative about poor people of color becoming violent when climate change makes resources scarce. This narrative draws on deep-seated stereotypes of Africans in particular as savages and barbarians, incapable of technological and institutional innovation or cooperation,” said [Betsy] Hartmann, [director of the population and development program and professor of development studies at Hampshire College]. “The media loves this stuff because fear sells in this country, especially racialized fears of poor people. The tragedy is that this approach works against the kind of international solidarity we need to build popular, democratic and effective solutions to climate change.”

BPFers in Vermont (blue sign in the upper left corner) participated in “Moving Planet” in Fall 2011, an event to showcase Vermont as a world leader on climate change

As Buddhists who care about climate change, can our understanding of interconnectedness help us remember that we need an internationally connected movement rather than an expansion of empire? How do we improve our relational skills and our ability to challenge the systems that lie about our separateness (like nationalism and racism), in order to actually build the kind of international solidarity we need?

What do you think about this use of militarized language to talk about climate change? Good strategy to get the suits in Washington to pay attention to this arguably most urgent of issues? Massive co-optation of the environmental movement as yet another excuse to spread empire? Is it critical to de-militarize our language in every instance? Or is it skillful means at times to use militarized language like targets, strategy, tactics, and militancy? Let us know what you think in the comments!

Top photo: Spc. Kim Browne / US Army

Comments (3)

  • Philip Kienholz

    I cannot fathom how militarists would be able to further the change of consciousness helpful to dealing with climate change, that is seeing nature itself as a living interconnected entity, rather than a repository of resources to be dominated and exploited.

  • Dawn Haney

    I’m with you on that Philip!

    However, I’ve also been called out at times for using “militaristic” language that has been adopted by social movements. Words like strategy – according to Wikipedia, it’s derived from the Greek stratēgia, the “art of troop leader; office of general, command, generalship.”

    So much of our day-to-day language has metaphors of war embedded within. When I’m faced with such a terrifying adoption of war metaphors, it’s forcing me to look again at my own language. Why is this example so egregious, while I’m fairly comfortable using strategy, tactics, and targets when talking about direct actions?

  • Philip Kienholz

    Hi Dawn:
    Thanks for the article, and response to my comment. Just saw the response today. I am not sure that the actual use of militarized terms themselves is particularly troublesome, though I also, like you, try to be aware of my use of them. The examples you give—targets, strategy, tactics, are useful in dualist thinking such as is common in business. Within that milieu one can be forced to use these words and add a layer of translating thought to try to ensure not to fall into aggressive thinking and action–tiresome enough to eventually lead to “bailing out” of those situations!

    But more important is that the truth of interconnectedness is difficult to maintain in ordinary life, life that is continually thrusting one into the illusion of separateness. The world as storehouse of resources to be exploited that is the common worldview of materialism, consumerism, and capitalism depends on this false consciousness of separation. To move away from the predominant worldview, one that is continually reinforced by the environment of advertising and mainstream news media, is necessary to begin what has been identified as a three-fold path to addressing climate change: realize the reality, take a stand, live differently.

    Militarism, embodying separation as it does, would prevent that worldview shift. Even though the military might be used as a tool by leaders in adapting to some climate change disasters, the mindset of the military practitioners would be working generally unconsciously against the worldview needed to strategically adapt to the new Earth, one of deep interconnection with it.

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