Elizabeth Warren’s Imperialism Won’t Give Us Climate Justice

“Our military can help lead the fight in combating climate change.” 

Elizabeth Warren declared this last Spring while introducing her co-written Bill, the Defense Climate Resiliency and Readiness Act, with Texas Representative Veronica Escobar. It would require the Pentagon to achieve net-zero carbon energy for “non-combat bases,” alongside other proposals intending to “harden the US military against the threat posed by climate change, and to leverage its huge energy footprint as part of our climate solution.” 

Warren is heralded as a progressive front-runner for the Democratic Party presidential campaign bid who promises a “plan for everything”—but this is a plan that wants militarized solutions for climate change, and that continues and emboldens American military dominance over the world, rather than challenges its very complicity in climate injustice. 

It is in this article that Warren argues that the military must act as a champion of climate justice, that its “readiness” and efficiency are staked upon going green. In fact, she designates climate change itself as a national security threat, one that the Pentagon must vigilantly combat for the sake of keeping America safe. “We don’t have to choose between a green military and an effective one,” Warren promises. But what does it mean for the military to be both environmentally friendly and effective? Even if non-combat bases achieve a net-zero carbon footprint, in the end, people and their homes are still being destroyed by US and US-funded bombing; there is nothing eco-friendly about murdering civilians. 

Warren’s words on “military readiness” as the imperative to address climate change are only an affirmation of her long-standing commitments to militarism in the name of national security. In 2013, in support of the US’s fifth largest defense contractor General Dynamics’ WIN-T program in home state Massachusetts, Warren wrote that “Massachusetts keeps us safe” and “will help our military modernize and adapt to meet current needs and address emerging threats.” General Dynamics thus, has lauded Warren as a “crucial” ally for lobbying on their behalf, and along with Raytheon, met with her regularly during her senate years. Through 2017, Warren secured over $138.4 million to support military projects in Massachusetts. These friendships and fundings all return to the Pentagon, the armed apparatus for imperialism.  

Imperialists with firm commitments to military spending, like Warren, perpetuate environmental violence against people living by the US’s bases, pipelines, plants, and bombing sites on a daily basis. Within the borders of the US, people in the carceral state of Florida and the colonized territory of Puerto Rico alike, endure ruthless hurricanes and cyclone surges. Indigenous activists in North Dakota are still fighting against the army-approved Keystone pipeline, which spilled 380,000 gallons of oil this fall.

Outside of US borders, foreign policy forces indigenous Boigu Islanders to relocate from their ancestral homes as the shorelines grow closer. Families in the Philippines, a former US territory, are still reckoning with groundwater contamination and toxic wastes generated by US naval bases. In Vietnam and Laos, people skirt around abandoned fields cratered with tons of unexploded land mines, cluster bombs, and other deadly ordnances left behind by US intervention.

By centering climate change as a virtue of US national security, conservation, and improving “military readiness,” Warren seeks militarized solutions that continue violence against vulnerable, exploited populations deemed threats to US interests on both sides of our borders. Climate change cannot simply be bordered off as a “geopolitical threat” or “threat multiplier” to combat away. Climate change is not a criminal to sequester, to gun down into mitigation or reversion. 

This language of national security reveals the imperial and colonial realities of climate change. The US’s relationship with climate change and imperialism began from its very national conceptions, when English settlers forced indigenous communities from their lands and occupied it as “America.” This act in itself is ecological violence—severing the bonds between indigenous people to the lands they have stewarded for centuries, rendering those relations null and illegitimate. The environmental destruction caused by imperial violence transformed the long-standing biodiversities of indigenous lands into colonial settlements that institutions like Tufts University are built on.

Five years ago, standing before students at Cohen Auditorium, Warren urged, “we are losing that America […that was investing in kids like me] and we’ve got to fight to get it back.” But who are the kids like Warren? For whose children’s futures was this America supposedly investing in during the sixties and seventies? Whose children deserve to inherit the gross wealth that the United States pirates and despoils from the world at gunpoint? Who is “us,” the ambiguously middle class American that Warren has staked her grand campaigns for? 

My critique of Warren extends to Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, Andrew Yang, and all Democrats positioning themselves as rescuing America from the crises it produces. Like that of Sanders and other progressive-claiming candidates, Warren’s reform of the military still seeks to insulate the United States from its own empire, to protect those who benefit the most from state-sanctioned terror and economic bondage that the US perpetuates as settler-colonial empire. 

While I do not oppose going to polls and exercising hard-won civil rights, I ask that we be intentional and strategic in how we vote, and that we mobilize against politicians at the same time we elect them into office. When we choose our imperialist representatives at the state and national level, there are real lives at stake outside of Warren’s “foreign policy for all Americans” slogan. 

We must remember the people who remain absent from progressive claims of saving America from climate change—because those not considered “Americans” worth investing in are also often those made into military targets in the name of investing in “kids like” Warren. 

We should know that Warren is not exceptional, that her progressive “plans” predicate on maintaining structures of imperial violence, whether they be “foreign” or “domestic.” These are dichotomies that conceal how our own histories and struggles against systemic violence are inextricably tethered together despite the distances in between, whether they be streets or countries or oceans away. 



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