An attack on Syria would be an attack on the climate

Please chip in to support more articles like this. Support for as little as $5 per month!

Syria. It's about oil. Again.

It's more complex than that, but as noted in the Guardian, the plans for an attack on Syria are "fueled by oil interests, not chemical weapon concern". Obama, Harper, and other war proponents are quick to claim that a US-led war on Syria wouldn't be another Iraq. But with an Iran-Iraq-Syria pipeline plan in the balance, that's precisely what it would be -- the latest Western war waged against a Middle Eastern country to ensure control of the oil and gas in the region.

Another war for oil 

 In July 2011, Iran inked a $10 billion (USD) gas export pipeline deal with Iraq and Syria, with the stated aim of extending the pipeline to Lebanon and ultimately exporting the gas to Europe.

So while the Harper government is doing all it can to trample on communities and Indigenous rights and Aboriginal Title to get export pipelines built in Canada, it is advocating for military action against Syria that would likely curtail the attempt to build a competing pipeline that would bring gas from Iran to Europe. Meanwhile, Europe is considering a Fuel Quality Directive that would recognize that oil from the tar sands is more emissions intensive than conventional crude.

This is economic warfare with Iran, with Syria as a proxy, and the climate caught in the crossfire along with countless civilians.

If anti-war mobilizations are effective enough to ensure Canada won't participate in any military aggression against Syria, it would remove a bit more of the shrinking political cover Obama has left for an attack. This would also minimize the chances of a region-wide conflict, which an attack on Syria could quickly become.

Given the likelihood of such an attack becoming a wider regional conflict, it's a military adventure the climate can't afford. Preventing war on Syria could prevent war on Iran, along with all the human and environmental devastation that would entail.

In a report on geopolitics of oil and gas in conflicts in the region, A Pipeline Through A Troubled Land, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives reminds us:

"The Middle East accounts for 60 per cent of the world's proven oil reserves and 40% of its gas … The U.S. military umbrella dominates these countries, ensuring a measure of control over more than 50 per cent of the world's oil reserves. And Iran has a further 10 per cent of the world's oil reserves. A brief look at Iran reveals ongoing strategies. Iran is a regional player in the New Great Game -- a place of enormous strategic importance. Its proven reserves of oil are the world's third largest in size, and those of natural gas rank second."

We need a red line on the climate crisis

 And while the hawks beat the oily drums of war once more, using a chemical attack in Syria as a pretext, little is said of the fact that a U.S.-led attack on Syria would be an attack on the entire world. This attack would release lethal quantities of CO2, an indiscriminate killer already known to cause at least 300,000 deaths every year, through an increasing amount of floods, droughts, hurricanes, heat waves, wildfires, and more.

By 2030, carbon-induced climate chaos could kill 500,000 annually.

The tragedy in Syria is an indisputably epic humanitarian disaster, with upwards of 100,000 killed in the civil war since 2011, 2 million refugees, and 4 million internally displaced. But launching even a "limited" bombing campaign in Syria would exacerbate the largest humanitarian disaster facing the world -- climate chaos -- while also claiming the lives of many Syrian civilians.

If the U.S. - possibly with the support of the Harper government in Canada and a handful of others -- launches an attack on Syria, we're all collateral damage. War on Syria would be a body blow to the climate.

The case has been compellingly made in The Guardian that the world needs a red line on the climate crisis. Bill McKibben has articulated what that red line looks like with his overview of the terrifying new math of the climate crisis.

Our climate is already too close to the tipping point, having passed the mark of 400 parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere, to keep pretending war is carbon neutral.

We are entering an era where it is not possible to be against climate change without being against war. Conflict emissions are simply too high and more war will push us over the climate cliff.

Collateral climate damage

 What would be the scale of greenhouse gas emissions from bombing Syria?

Analysis in a landmark report from Oil Change International shows that between 2003 and 2008 the war on Iraq was responsible for "at least" 2.35 million metric tons of CO2 every month. The authors of the report point out that this is a conservative estimate due to the secretive nature of military operations.

If the attack on Syria were on a similar scale as Iraq, the emissions would be the equivalent of putting another 2 million cars on the road every month it continued. The Oil Change report found the Iraq war emissions amounted to "more CO2 each year than 139 of the world's nations … more than 60 per cent of all countries."

Obama and other war proponents have claimed bombing Syria would be restricted to 'surgical strikes' with 'no boots on the ground' and the resolution before Congress seeks authorization for 90 days of war (60 days with an extra 30 upon notifying Congress). But, given the experience of Iraq and Afghanistan, it should be clear by now how quickly 90 days can become 90 months and how quickly mission creep can become mission sprawl. Case in point is a Pentagon study that concluded Obama's stated objectives in Syria would require 75,000 troops to be deployed there. So an attack on Syria would look less like Kosovo and more like Iraq, both in terms of scale and emissions.

Even without "boots on the ground" the carbon bootprints of both an attack on Syria, and the fuel burned to get both the aircraft and fuel into the region, will be substantial. According to Oil Change International, "Transporting 4 billion gallons of fuel to the military in Iraq consumed at least as much fuel as was delivered -- nearly doubling overall fuel-related emissions." This doubling effect would apply to U.S. airstrikes in Syria too.

As Noam Chomsky and others have pointed out, bombing Syria would be a war crime.  Arguably, it would also be a climate crime.

Majority against a climate of war 

Polls show most people in the US and other NATO countries are against military intervention in Syria and that opposition is growing quickly.

Pew Research has found that in just this past week, "the share of Americans who oppose U.S. airstrikes in Syria has surged 15 points, from 48 per cent to 63 per cent, as many who were undecided about the issue have turned against military action ... Just 28 per cent favor U.S. military airstrikes against Syria... 45 per cent say they oppose airstrikes very strongly."

Various polls have found that 57 per cent in the UK are opposed, along with 58 per cent in Germany and 52 per cent in Italy.

In Canada, Forum Research recently found that 50 per cent are against participating in an attack on Syria and that 75 per cent of Canadians think Parliament should be recalled before any decision is made. Interestingly, the Forum poll also found that slightly over half of Canadians agree that military intervention in Syria would be bad for the global economy.

Following Obama's recent request for Congress to delay voting on bombing Syria, what happens next is unclear, but the U.S. military remains in position to launch an attack. However, with the growing opposition, including notably in the US Congress as a result of massive public outcry, this war may well be averted.

Even if public opposition ultimately does prevent the U.S. and allies from bombing Syria, it's long past time to consider the carbon footprint of militarism. Proponents of military actions against other countries need to justify interventions not only in the context of human rights and international law, but also in terms of the emissions of waging war. When public debates about war and peace take place, the climate crisis needs to be a central part of those debates. Our collective future depends on it.

No warming means no warmongering 

There's a saying that's popped up on many an antiwar placard over the years: "If war is the answer, we're asking the wrong question." What if the polls about Syria asked questions like "Would you be more opposed to military intervention if it made the climate crisis worse?"

A 2010 poll in Canada found that "73 per cent agree the money spent on wars and the military would all be better spent on efforts that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the impacts of climate change." Opposition to war and militarism appears to be even higher when the damage it does to the climate is taken into account.

We've reached a stage in the climate crisis where large-scale military action and war can no longer be seen as acceptable. Not only is the climate in the most precarious situation it's been in, war has become more emissions intensive than ever. Oil Change International notes that "Compared with World War II … the military in Iraq and Afghanistan is using 16 times more fuel per soldier."

"As with the melting of the Arctic ice cap, there is a dangerous feedback loop between war and warming," Oil Change International warns. "Not only is climate change likely to increase conflict, particularly over access to natural resources, but war, in turn, is already accelerating global warming while simultaneously draining our economy of money needed for clean energy."

In fact, some are pointing out that Syria's civil war itself was, at least in part, sparked by the climate crisis in the form of a severe drought from 2006-2011. Given this assessment, the emissions from bombing Syria would contribute to similar conflicts becoming more likely in the future, including in Syria itself. Welcome to the era of climate blowback.

The way to reduce the likelihood of similar conflicts isn't dropping bombs from the sky -- it's reducing the CO2 that ends up in the sky.

A new economy based on peace, climate justice and green jobs

Prime Minister Harper is saying Canada doesn’t have the military equipment to participate in bombing Syria, such as cruise missiles, drones, stealth fighters. Whether Canada will opt out of the latest "coalition of the willing" remains to be seen, but will require continued anti-war mobilizing to ensure.

In the not-too-distant future, we can expect Harper to point to Syria to make the case for Canada needing these kinds of weapons systems to be able to effectively participate in future wars. And I don't mean stealth snowmobiles.

And so even if the antiwar movement is successful in preventing the bombing of Syria, in Canada it will need to ramp up efforts to challenge the purchases of these kinds of unnecessary weapons and build the case for demilitarizing the economy.

We need a different vision for the future to refute and replace the regular resorting to war, militarism, and neoliberalism. We need the kind of model Naomi Klein described at the founding convention of the new union, Unifor: a green labour revolution.

We need to build an economy that prioritizes green jobs and Indigenous rights over export pipelines and the arms trade. We need peace and prosperity not war and austerity. And we need a mass movement to make it happen.

If we want to save the climate we have to stop the war. The math is simple: No war, no warming.


Dylan Penner is involved in a variety of antiwar, social justice, labour, and environmental groups in Canada, including as an organizer with the Ottawa Peace Assembly.

He’s on Twitter at @DylanPenner.


Further Reading

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable. has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.


We welcome your comments! embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:


  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.


  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.