Time to Fight Climate Change, Not Each Other

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The Trudeau government’s plan to buy 88 new fighter jets and 15 combat vessels will do little to protect Canadians from this country’s most serious threats. And some people are angry enough to take the streets to send this message to Ottawa. Two dozen rallies were held across the country last week to oppose a fighter jet purchase that will exacerbate an existential menace.

The wildly expensive military hardware would be of no use to those flooded in British Colombia. Nor could they have assisted those devastated by forest fires last summer in Lytton, BC, or protected Canadians from a virus that has felled 30,000 and turned most of our lives’ upside down the past two years.

Worse than no help in fighting a pandemic or climate crisis, the cutting-edge fighter jets and surface combatants will exacerbate the problem. The warplanes spew huge amounts of greenhouse gases (GHGs) while the naval vessels are also powered by oil. Canada’s probable fighter jet choice, Lockheed Martin’s F-35, reportedly burns 5,600 litres of highly toxic fuel per hour of flying.

As the federal government proclaims its commitment to reach net-zero in less than 30 years, its two most costly ever procurements will entrench fossil fuel militarism into the next half of the century. Already the Department of National Defence emitted 59% of federal government GHGs in 2019-20. But the military is exempt from emissions reduction targets.

Worse still, purchasing new surface combatants and warplanes diverts resources required for a just transition away from fossil fuels. The naval vessels are expected to cost an eye-popping $82 billion upfront and as much as $286 billion over their lifecycle. The fighter jets sticker price is $19 billion with an estimated lifecycle cost of $77 billion.

These public resources are required to mitigate the climate crisis and transition off fossil fuels. Why not spend the money to build dozens of light rail lines in every major centre or a million units of car-free public housing? Or how about investing to expand wind and solar energy production?

The indirect ecological toll of the fighter jets and naval vessels is also significant. Unnecessary to defend Canadian sovereignty, the high-tech weapons are designed to participate in NATO and US-led missions and wars. The F-35 is marketed as capable of releasing a B61 nuclear bomb. The naval surface combatants look set to be equipped with Tomahawk cruise missiles capable of striking land targets up to 1,700 kilometres away and with radar systems that will allow US officials to launch the weapons.

New fighter jets and naval vessels are an investment in an ideology we must jettison to overcome the climate crisis. Militarism is inherently anti-ecological. It also stokes division and is intimately tied to nation-state competition, which undercuts the international co-operation required to mitigate climate chaos (not to mention the pandemic and other ecological crises).

Environmentalists’ battle is not with the Russians or Chinese, it’s with the polluters, which include those purportedly protecting us from the Russians and Chinese. An extremely expensive naval armada and cutting-edge fighter jets bristling with weapons of destruction can’t stop ever more ferocious heat waves, forest fires and torrential floods.

It’s clear we must wage war on climate change, not on our fellow human beings.

Yves Engler’s latest book is ‪Canada in Africa: 300 years of Aid and Exploitation.

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