What does a 6-year old in the United States and an 85 year-old Russian have in common, besides being on opposite sides in a war?
They’re both feeling the strain of a warming planet.
“Is the earth going to get so hot that we can’t survive?” my young son asked me last summer as we plodded through the woods behind our Maryland home. I wasn’t certain, I replied hesitantly. (Not the most comforting answer from a mother to a daily question.) My younger child was just at home when she started wheezing from the heat of that July morning.
A few summers earlier, during a visit to a town about 4,500 miles away near St. Petersburg, Russia, an elderly friend of mine said to me, “When did it become so hot?” Like my daughter, she was breathing hard and continually glancing back toward her doorway.
Since the 1990s, as an anthropologist of human rights and war, I’ve traveled to Russia. I was then visiting the farm where my friend grew crops to add to the food she purchased with a government stipend she got as a survivor of the Nazis’ siege of her city during World War II. She shook her head and gestured towards the apple orchard. They were part of her diet and could be canned each fall. However, it seemed that fewer apples were growing each year. I wondered if she would die of heat and hunger after having survived a war.
Usually, she laughed at me when I mentioned my concerns about our warming climate. “We could use a little global warming in Russia,” she would say and gesture at the icicle-laced landscape around her wooden home. I have heard this joke many times in Russian cities where winter can be so cold that it stings your ears.
However, both the heat and the frost were becoming more severe at each visit. I noticed a growing number activist friends and acquaintances. awarenessof environmental issues like water pollution and deforestation. However, they were cautious in what they said as Russian nongovernmental organisations are frequently threatened and even beaten. Politically motivatedCharges that could force them out of business.
Still, across Russia, I had also seen examples of local authorities listening to such activists and sometimes making small changes like halting logging projects to protect a community’s food supplies or stopping construction that’s polluting local wells. And increasingly, climate change was growing harder even for Russia’s autocratic president, Vladimir PutinIt is hard to ignore Siberia’s recent actions. Feuer and its melting permafrost creating a “Methane time bomb” of greenhouse gases that will help drive heating globally in a potentially disastrous way.
The Environmental Costs of War
It seems ironic, though not exactly surprising, that, by invading Ukraine last month, yet another leader who claims to care about humanity’s future started a new war (just what we needed!) on this planet. And that decision has left me haunted by images of climate change at war—the exhaust emanating from the back-to-back traffic of those driving away from Ukrainian cities like KyivAs MillionsMany civilians continue to flee the ferocious bombardments by the Russian military. You can also see the smoke from Russia’s military base in western Ukraine. attackedor footage of desperate residents of the besieged port of Mariupol BurningTo keep warm, use firewood
In 2011, I helped found Brown University’s Costs of War ProjectThe, which was charged with tracking the human and financial cost of the American global war against terror and now of armed conflicts such as the one in Ukraine. As that Russian invasion continues so disastrously, what should be obvious to all of us is that any war will only further exacerbate another killer on this planet—and that killer, of course, is Climate change.
Because it is notoriously hard to calculate the true costs and financial consequences of armed conflicts, due to deliberate government obfuscation and the chaos of war, we started the Costs of War Project. But there’s another cost that’s becoming all too clear, one we need to recognize. Consider the Massive amountsEnergy used to fly fighter jets, fire missiles, move and supply soldiers, or send a convoy with tanks towards Kyiv. All of that, devastating in itself, now also becomes part of another war entirely, the human war that’s heating this planet and already affecting ever more of its nearly Eight billion inhabitants.
Modern warfare is incredibly energy-intensive. Just one example: single missionIn 2017, Two US B2-B Stealth BombersTo strike Islamic State targets in Libya, they flew approximately 12,000 miles. They alone released about 1,000 metric tonnes of greenhouse gases. Consider this as well: We know that the US military’s greenhouse gas Emissionsannual are greater than those of countries like Sweden, Portugal, Denmark and Portugal. Forget about the Russians. The United States maintains military operations in more than 85 countries (and counting!).
Worse, fighting a war is a way to divert energy and resources to kill rather than to sustain development. Even countries that are involved in such conflicts may have a much smaller capacity to deal effectively with the environmental war. Consider, for instance, Germany and ItalyFollowing the invasion of Ukraine, there were provisional plans to reopen previously shut coal plants. Italy has now made provisional plans for the replacement of Russian natural gas and other fuel. Germany, which is facing an even greater energy shortage without Russian energy supplies may now delay plans for closing its last coal plants until 2030. Both of these are minor climate disasters. Obviously, there’s no way of imagining when Ukraine’s cities will be able to deal with climate change again. The now-destroyed MariupolThis is a prime example. Once labeled by the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development’s Green Cities Program as one of the most “engaged” cities for its efforts to invest in renewable energy and clean up water pollution, it’s now in a desperate struggle for its own survival.
Similar results can be found in the Conflict and Environment Observatory, since the start of the war between Ukraine’s military and Russian-backed separatists in the Donbas regionIn 2014, the main power station had to use fuel reserves of low-grade and high-polluting fuel. The central government of Ukraine used to supply a higher-grade version, but it is no longer possible to obtain this fuel. Other effects of this war and similar wars include clear-cutting forestsTo shelter refugees PoweringCamps with gas generators. US is a dangerous and hazardous method of disposing of waste. Burn pitsAnother example of the environmentally harmful methods that are often approved under war conditions is the destruction of military bases in Iraq.
The US and its Climate Inaction
Recent headlines WarningEnvironmental catastrophes have been completely displaced (to the extent they existed) by headlines about warfare. We’re all talking about the possibility of a World War III, but there are far too few conversations about the Climate impactThe military buildup has already had a profound impact on Europe.
Consider it typical of our moment (and UN Secretary General António Guterres The exception) that President Biden essentially skipped climate change in his State of the Unionaddress, even though he drew bipartisan applausefor calling on Americans support Ukraine. This is a drastically scaled-down version his Build Back Better spending bill. $3.5 Trillion towards investment in social services and clean energy didn’t even muster sufficient votes in his own party to make it through the Senate. (Thanks, coal magnate Joe Manchin!)
Just two weeks into the war with Russia and Ukraine, a bipartisan Senate voted by 68 to 31 for $1.5 trillion in government spending BillThe package authorized $13.6 million in military and humanitarian assistance for Ukraine. The package IncludesTens of thousands of US troops were sent to NATO countries. This was in exchange for paying for the $350 Million in WeaponryThis country has already sent to Ukraine the intelligence assistance to that country and money to enforce sanctions against Russia. And it’s clear that the spigot has just been turned on. The Biden administration added another. $800 million in weapons and protective gear for Ukraine’s military by week three of the war. It recently committed $1 billion moreTo assist European countries in accepting Ukrainian refugees and to promise to accept 100,000 Ukrainian refugees on American soil.
As parts of Ukraine are demolished, the human costs of war continue to increase. Many thousandsBoth. SidesAlthough estimates vary on the exact number of victims, many are killed in fighting. That’s part of the problem. Calculating war’s true costs takes many years, while even before the smoke clears another war, an environmental one whose casualties will, in the long run, be staggering, is gearing up, barely noticed by so many.
Environmental Carnage, Now and Then
Climate change is a serious concern It can have a profound effect on your life. peoples’ health, the natural environment, and our infrastructure everywhere. The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’sAccording to the latest report, these effects include intensifying extreme weather, an increase in the frequency and spread of disease, severe future water scarcity for approximately half of the world’s population annually, and more frequent floodings and droughts.
Scientists say that, given the world’s current RateWe should expect 2100 in terms of energy consumption as well as the temperature rise that comes with it. ResultsThese include a five-fold increase of extreme weather events like floods or wildfires, a jump in the percentage of the world’s population that is exposed to deadly heat stress, more than a million coastal residents adversely affected due to rising seas and other climate risk by mid century; and 183,000,000 additional malnourished people.
Somewhere in this flood of bad climate news, however, there may prove to be a strange silver lining: Such a range of potential climate crises that pay no attention to borders should ultimately have the potential to connect us to our geopolitical enemies (though this seems even less likely than it did when the Ukraine war began, now that Putin’s climate envoy has ResignIn protest The development of climate diplomacy has never been more urgent, since without collective action aimed at creating a carbon neutral world by 2050, we’ll all lose this fight.
In 2010, I took a four-day train trip from St. Petersburg, Russia, to the Krasnodar region near Ukraine, for a friend’s wedding. It was already scorching hot in July. Drought had caused to WildfiresThese fires swept across Europe, causing a stench in Moscow and tens of thousands of deaths.
Others were like me and opened their windows to enjoy the breeze, only to find that the air was so thick it covered our faces within minutes. One time, a group consisting of new Russian army soldiers, thin adolescents with acne-cratering faces, boarded our car. They joked about how the air made them feel like they’d been smoking all day, when they were trying not to so that they could carry out whatever mission lay ahead of them in Russia’s conflict-ridden borderlands. (Putin’s crew was then fighting a counterinsurgency war in nearby Chechnya.) The soldiers worked hard to save money and prepared meals for us all from goods bought at outdoor markets.
During that trip 12 years ago, it already felt as though something was changing in terms of Russia’s relationship to the world. It was becoming more difficult for journalists to write criticalally about the government, especially its militaries. While there were many luxury restaurants, car dealerships, cosmetics stores, the average Russian was still struggling to make ends work.
The train stopped in small towns and grandmothers and children held paper trays with homemade chicken cutlets and cucumbers that passengers could buy. They looked much more sooty and wind-worn than we did. One stop brought me to my cabin a policeman in his 50s with his wife and two children, who were returning home to Chechnya. They’d been on vacation in Crimea, which Ukraine controlled at the time. “Did you know that it had once belonged to Russia?” he asked me. It was easier for his family, he said, to go there as a kid, as Ukraine was still part the Soviet Union. WasBeautiful and I Should visit. He and his wife took turns wiping their children’s sooty faces with wet washcloths. “My God, when did this heat get so bad?” he asked not exactly me, but the air, the planet.
And it’s true, I’ve never forgotten the heat that enveloped us all then and my early sense of our shared humanity in the face of a changing climate. As anyone who has ever lived in the American West, the record is a fact. Fires, heat domes, Megadrought of the last year knows, it’s only been getting worse.
As different as our all-too-fragile democracy still thankfully is from Russia’s autocracy, what we do have in common is short-sightedness. It causes the political class in both countries to focus on military solutions—remember the Terrorism is a terrible enemy in the Global War on Terrorism?—to geopolitical problems with deep historical roots. What if we had marshalled the support of intermediaries like Finland or Israel back when Volodymyr Zelensky first reached out to Putin upon taking office as Ukraine’s president in 2019? What if Washington had declared long ago that Ukraine would not be a NATO candidate? Perhaps today its president wouldn’t be pleading for a NATO no-fly zoneThat could lead to nuclear war.
Nonviolent, diplomatic diplomacy could still make a significant difference. StepsTo protect the victims and pave the way to diplomacy triumphing over militarism, sustainable development over destruction. It makes me sick to my stomach to think that the window is closing on the people I love. Not just the horrific killing and destruction of the moment, but the long-term suffering likely to come from the environmental damage we’re causing should impel us all to call for a major diplomatic push to end the nightmare in Ukraine now. After all, if the world’s great powers don’t pull together soon on climate action, we’re in trouble deep.