What institutions in Canada have the worst record for both emitting greenhouse gases and obstructing genuine climate action?
Gas, oil and coal corporations — the fossil fuel industry — might understandably top your list. But according to Montreal-based foreign policy analyst Yves Engler, there's one institution that largely escapes the attention it deserves in climate debates: the Canadian military.
Engler, the author of 12 books, is sometimes dubbed Canada's Noam Chomsky. In an exclusive interview with Canada’s National Observer, he highlighted the Armed Forces' role in Canada's climate foot-dragging.
"The Canadian military is responsible for 59 per cent of the federal government's greenhouse gas emissions," he said, but it's excluded from the Trudeau government's already "very dubious plan" for net zero.
Military pollution is also protected from consideration at international climate negotiations.
More generally, militarism and nationalism are "important obstacles to internationalism" — solidarity and co-operation — required to combat the global climate crisis. Canada's direct emissions may be a small part (about 1.5 per cent) of the world's total. But it's relevant that we Canucks dump 50 times as much greenhouse gas per capita into the atmosphere as do many African countries bearing the brunt of climate disruption.
Instead of internationalism, Canada's foreign policy is "overwhelmingly determined by two things," said Engler. First, historical alignment with first the British and now the American empires.
Second, corporate interests and profits. That's why Export Development Canada has "huge funding in different fossil fuel projects," he said. And why fossil fuel companies are included, and influential, in Canada's official delegation to the COP climate negotiations.
Through lobbying, Canada's military industrial complex has a more specific influence on Canadian foreign policy. None of this requires a conspiracy theory of secret cabals.
The military has pushed for the impending contract to buy "a whole bunch more fighter jets" that use heavy oil, costing up to $70 billion over their life cycle. It's a false notion of security, in Engler's view. Those funds could instead help Canada to transition from fossil fuels and build "a good life with a whole lot less greenhouse gas emissions."
Which institution in Canada has the worst record for both emitting greenhouse gases and obstructing genuine climate action? The Canadian military, according to @EnglerYves in an interview with Robert Hackett. #cdnpoli #opinion
Currently, such arguments could run into the headwinds of Russia's massive intervention in Ukraine. Isn't increased military spending necessary for security?
For Engler, while Russia's invasion is "illegal and brutal," it is far from "unprovoked," as corporate media keep asserting. Canada has had "a very aggressive role in promoting NATO expansion," contrary to the promises made to Soviet officials at the end of the Cold War.
And Canada has participated in "a low-level proxy war with Russia," from the ouster of Ukraine’s Moscow-leaning president Viktor Yanukovych in 2014, to Operation UNIFIER, training the Ukrainian military while it was fighting separatists in eastern Ukraine.
If I read him right, NATO has contributed to conflict escalation, which in the nuclear age is itself a security threat. It would not be contradictory, Engler said at a public talk in Powell River, B.C., to continue arming Ukraine while urging a diplomatic solution. He raised the possibility of eventual Canadian withdrawal from NATO.
What does Engler make of the argument by CNO's Chris Hatch that Vladimir Putin's invasion has unwittingly accelerated a transition to renewable energy?
He's skeptical. Putin is no friend of climate action, and the war is pushing Europe to resort to dirtier fuels, like coal. The conflict provides a ready justification — "energy security" — for further political impetus to fossil fuel projects, like Bay du Nord.
Genuine security, in Engler's view, means recognizing the climate crisis as the top threat.
More broadly, "the rise of great power conflict and proxy wars" intensifies the global climate crisis by undermining the necessary international co-operation.
How would Engler rate Canada's dominant media in covering the military-climate crisis connection?
In a word, "terrible."
As early as 1994, military pollution — an estimated 10 per cent of the global total — was highlighted by NewsWatch Canada (a project I co-directed at Simon Fraser University) as one of Canada's most under-reported stories. Apparently, little has changed since then. Why?
Our society has "a lot of deference towards the military," says Engler. Add to that the dominant media's general "unwillingness to look at the ecological question."
More specifically, the Department of National Defence (DND) and the Canadian Forces have "the biggest public relations apparatus of any institution in this country."
Its hundreds of full-time PR officers aim not only for positive coverage of the institution, but for conveying the military's perspective on international issues. The DND's ideological footprint is enlarged in myriad other ways, from running its own university and funding prestigious think tanks, to extensive outreach to the corporate sector and "spending lavishly on war commemorations," as Engler details in his most recent book, Stand on Guard for Whom?
Don't take Engler to be an anti-soldier. One of the biggest endorsers of his work is former infantryman Scott Taylor, publisher of Esprit de Corps magazine. Engler's critique focuses on the military, corporate and political elites who make Canada's foreign policy something other than that of a peaceable nation.
His work challenges "the drums and bugles version generated by the militaristic Colonel Blimp historians," in Taylor's words.
It's not just elite institutions that generate the military-climate blind spot. Major environmental groups "deserve a certain degree of blame," which is ironic, given the very name of Greenpeace and its origins in challenging U.S. nuclear tests in the Pacific.
Engler is especially gobsmacked by U.S. environmental grandee Bill McKibben, who sees the Pentagon as an ally against the climate crisis. How so? Because it can woo political conservatives by defining climate change as a "security" issue, and its research capacity can help solve the climate crisis. Never mind the Pentagon's role as the greenhouse gas-spewing military pillar of an unsustainable global economic system.
Such arguments, in Engler's view, might be explained by environmentalists "wanting to have a seat at the table of acceptable discourse."
What would make Canada's foreign policy less militarist, more environmentally friendly?
Ideally, its democratization. But Engler argues it's the least publicly accessible and greatest "non-democracy zone" of our political life. As a first step, Canadians can inform themselves through resources like the Canadian Foreign Policy Institute, where Engler is a fellow.
Engler himself became aware of the contradiction between stated values and actual policies through researching Canada's complicity in the coup overthrowing Haiti's democratically elected leftist president Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 2004. He notes an "explosion" of critical articles in academic and independent (but not corporate) media since then.
Engler's myth-busting research can be discomfiting to those of us weaned on Canada's image as a benevolent peacemaker. But in a world struggling to avoid nuclear and climate catastrophe, perhaps it's a necessary wake-up call.
Robert Hackett is a professor emeritus of communication at Simon Fraser University, a Burnaby-based climate and coast defender, and co-author of Journalism and Climate Crisis: Public Engagement, Media Alternatives (Routledge, 2017).