Friday, February 12, 2010

A Big What If – Finding Clean Energy Dollars in Obama’s War Chest


Whether you support, find yourself wobbling in between or vehemently oppose (like me) the continued occupation of Iraq and the expanded occupation of Afghanistan, odds are you join me in the sentiment that Obama’s newly released $708 billion 2011 defense budget is not only obscene, but also represents a disastrous sense of fiscal priorities considering the current state of America. In fact, I am willing to bet my bottom dollar that if the veils of misinformation were removed, and American political dialogue shifted into the realm of the somewhat logical, most common Americans would agree with that sentiment of obscenity (especially our “fiscally conservative” brethren).

This new budget represents a historic high in military spending, even surpassing President George W. Bush who took us into the margins of the criminally insane with his post September 11th defense budgets. Yes that’s right- our new visionary and “progressive” president is throwing more dollars at the Pentagon than good ole W. In fact Obama’s 2011 budget is the largest proposed defense spending since World War II.

According to the Center for American Progress, this proposed spending represents a 3.4% increase from the 2010 fiscal year baseline defense spending, and an increase of $173 billion (36%) from just five years ago. A new study by The Center for a New American Security puts the numbers in perspective by estimating that after adjusting for inflation, Obama’s new budget is 13 percent higher than the defense budget at the peak of the Korean War, 33 percent higher than at the peak of the Vietnam War, 23 percent higher than at the peak of the Cold War, and 64 percent higher than the Cold War's average. We now comprise close to 47% of global defense spending and around 8 times what China (the second place finisher) is currently spending on defense.

Although past promises from both candidate Obama and President Obama to cut wasteful defense programs, some of the most costly programs are growing. Fred Kaplan breaks it down best in a new Slate article:

“For the most part, the big-ticket weapons programs are on the rise: $25 billion for 10 new ships, including two Virginia-class submarines and two DDG-51 destroyers (to make up for his killing the more "advanced" DDG-1000 last year, perhaps). Gates is requesting another $10 billion on missile defense (a billion more than last year). And he is requesting $11 billion for 43 more F-35 fighter planes.”

Now here’s where I get a little opinionated. For me the new defense budget combined with Obama’s recent announcement to heavily escalate the occupation of Afghanistan, not to mention that continually rolling Iraq deadline and the ever increasing construction of permanent bases throughout the Middle East represents an ominous sign for the climate movement. Whether or not it covers their entire war motive or just a portion, this administration, like past administrations, is continuing to prioritize the geo-political and strategic control of oil and natural gas regions; a signal that these resources will continue to be vital tools in the global political and financial arena. Not exactly a beacon of hope that this administration is planning a full scale transition to real clean energy any time soon. Even fiscally this has serious ramifications- Fred Kaplan again:

“But unless Obama decides to declare victory and pull out of Afghanistan in 2012, actual war costs are going to be substantially more than $50 billion. That means the DoD budget for that year will be substantially larger than $616.4 billion—and the deficit will be larger than whatever the OMB officials are projecting it will be.”

Meanwhile clean energy investment continues to be too little too late. Just to provide a comparison in priorities- according to a recent co-authored report by Breakthrough Institute and Information Technology & Innovation Foundation:

“China, Japan and South Korea are launching massive, comprehensive clean-energy projects, investing a combined total of around $500 billion over the next five years. In contrast, the House-passed American Clean Energy & Security Act (ACESA), combined with the 2009 economic recovery package, poises the U.S. government to invest only $172 billion into the clean energy industry over the next five years.”

In 2008, 34 Nobel Prize winners wrote to President Obama and asked for $15 billion a year in clean energy R&D to help solve the climate crisis and once again make America competitive. In a small step in the right direction, the Obama administration recently proposed $74 million for clean energy-related programs, as part of the RE-ENERGYSE program. Now let’s put all these numbers in perspective.

The yearly clean energy funding amount coming out of the 2009 economic recovery package and ACESA represents only 5% of the 2011 defense budget. If the United States was to match the yearly clean energy investments of China, Japan and South Korea that percentage would rise to just around 14%.

Just considering R&D- here's Teryn Norris from "A Critical Moment For Energy Leadership":

“ACESA would only invest $1 to $1.5 billion per year in clean energy R&D, on top of the current federal energy R&D budget of around $4 billion per year (only a portion is for renewable energy). Meanwhile …… Department of Defense receives a whopping $85 billion.”

At most that puts Clean Energy R&D investment at just 5% of defense R&D; if Obama were to adopt the suggestions of the Nobel Laureates that number would rise to just 17%.

The cynic in me knows better than to expect a full 360 in defense policy from any American administration. It’s the toughest policy realm to infiltrate and effectuate change, and I know that from 5 years in the anti war movement. That said what if we could nibble around the edges a bit? There is clearly plenty of room for reduction in Obama’s budget according to the Center for American Progress. They find that halting the production of the historically faulty Joint Strike Fighter planes could save up to $200 million a plane (they’re expanding the fleet from 30 to 42- you do the math). They also suggest that the following changes could save billions:

  • Canceling the Marine Corps’ expeditionary fighting vehicle
  • Halting further production of the MV-22 Osprey
  • Slowing down spending for missile defense
  • Keeping the Virginia-class attack submarine production steady at one per year
  • Cutting FY 2011 funding for the Army’s Future Combat Systems by one-third
  • Slashing the U.S. strategic nuclear arsenal to 600 deployed warheads and 400 in reserve
  • Implementing an across-the-board reduction in research, development, test, and evaluation funding

These are very real and substantial cuts that could quickly help bridge the gap for clean energy investment; funding moving straight from wasteful programs to climate solutions and economic redevelopment. In the future, the administration could move the funding for these wasteful programs out of the defense budget and into the annual budget or into an economic revitalization (stimulus bill) for the clean energy sector. This type of reallocation of dollars would ease the immediate need to sell the public on increasing the deficit for clean energy investment, while also signaling an important shift in US priorities from endless war in the name of strategic resource control to real climate solutions.

I won’t pretend to know the exact advocacy path our movement could take to achieve this, but being familiar with the disparity in these numbers along with some simple re-allocation schemes could provide some real fodder for engagement of the administration in the future. It is also a signal to me that the clean energy/ climate movement is once again inevitably tied to the anti-war movement. At the very least this budget represents a new avenue of pressure and engagement for the climate movement to explore.

Photo courtesy of wikemedia.org

2 comments:

Jesse Jenkins said...

"According to the Center for American Progress, this proposed spending represents a 3.4% increase from the 2010 fiscal year baseline defense spending, and an increase of $173 billion (36%) from just five years ago. A new study by The Center for a New American Security puts the numbers in perspective by estimating that after adjusting for inflation, Obama’s new budget is 13 percent higher than the defense budget at the peak of the Korean War, 33 percent higher than at the peak of the Vietnam War, 23 percent higher than at the peak of the Cold War, and 64 percent higher than the Cold War's average. We now comprise close to 47% of global defense spending and around 8 times what China (the second place finisher) is currently spending on defense."

These numbers are simply stunning! Thanks Mark for the post.

Jesse

pauli said...

In the above article o-words like
occupation,obscene,ominous and Obama
are connected in a manner that I too
vehemently oppose (another o-word!)