Wednesday, February 6
What's more of a threat to our existence -- al-Qaida or climate change?

Judging from the budget priorities of the United States, the so-called global war on terror is more important than the long-term survival of the planet.

A study released last week by the Institute for Policy Studies found that the federal government is spending $88 on the military for every dollar it spends on climate-related programs.

The U.S. military budget for the current fiscal year is $647.5 billion, more than every other nation's military spending -- combined.

Meanwhile, the fiscal 2008 budget for dealing with climate change is $7.37 billion. Of that amount, only $212 million -- about the cost of one day of the U.S. occupation of Iraq -- is spent on helping developing nations come up with clean, renewable energy sources.

If you're looking for a note of optimism, that 88-to-1 ratio is actually an improvement. Over the previous five years, the United States has spent $3.5 trillion on the military versus $37 billion on climate change -- a 97 to 1 ratio.

The other bit of good news is that even our military leaders are starting to recognize climate change as a national security issue.

The Pentagon and the intelligence community have produced several reports over the past few years predicting that climate change has the potential to make bad political situations even worse. They foresee resource wars over food and water, and political and humanitarian crises that could easily spin out of control.

Yet the Pentagon is getting more research and development money -- $77 billion -- this year to come up with new killing technologies, while only about $4 billion will go for climate change R&D.

Granted, terrorism is a serious problem. But, as the IPS report points out, terrorism "doesn't surround us. The effect of climate change, on the other hand, will."

Money keeps being poured into Iraq and Afghanistan. The global war on terror has become the second most costly war in our nation's history, according to the Congressional Research Office and the Office of Budget and Management.

In 2007 dollars, it cost $3.2 trillion to fight World War II. The cost of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to date is nearly $700 billion. By comparison, the Vietnam War cost $670 billion, while World War I cost $364 billion and the Korean War cost $295 billion.

Nearly $700 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan. And what do we have to show for it?

By putting a greater priority on war and destruction rather than on peace and on building for the future, we have lost precious time in so many areas. How many schools and hospitals could have been built with that money? How many bridges and roads could have been fixed?

Amtrak could run for 50 years on that money. Every household in America could be weatherized. Research and development into wind and solar power could move faster than ever before. We could come up with new ways to wean our economy away from imported oil.

Sadly, few of our political leaders have the courage to cut military spending and redirect the savings to other priorities. The proposed military budget for fiscal 2009 is $515.4 billion, plus an additional $70 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan.

For too long, the Pentagon has gotten whatever it wants, while everyone else has to live off the crumbs. For the long term survival of this nation, and the world, this must change.