Resisting Green Militarism, Refusing Sustainable War – Collective Action for Peace and Ecological Justice

photo of small green plastic army men Green plastic toy soldiers, ThisDesign @Adobe Stock images

Essay originally drafted for the WPF seminar, ‘What Animates and Challenges the Possibilities for Collective Action today?‘ held in September 2023.

Can war be environmentally sustainable? Since coming across the idea of environmentally friendly weapons for the first time in 2020, this question has grown and morphed and played with me in so many ways. It poses a fascinating provocation, evoking enduring conundrums around the realities of war and the systems that make war rational and desirable despite its harms to people and planet mutating across generations. What is war? How and why are our societies so invested in its perpetuation? What is ecological care if it is also a category of military practice? More importantly, what happens to ecological justice, as concept, praxis and condition, when ecological care is drawn into the logics, economy, interests and relations of war?

In thinking and acting on militarism, ecological injustice and their intersections, the “art of noticing”1 and the process of encountering2 have very special roles. The ecological impact of war preparation and war making, and the role of ecology in facilitating and often constituting military practice, are relationships that have gone largely unnoticed by policymakers and publics alike – be it by silencing, omission, ignorance or disinterest. Yet, in a time of globally intensifying military and ecological crises, it is becoming increasingly difficult to overlook the reciprocity between these crises’ causes, conditions and solutions. Wherever I turn, I now encounter testimonies of a world in the simultaneous grips of global war and global warming. As proof of this, voices from the communities to whom the military-ecological nexus was   always a visceral reality are gaining ground even among movements and in policymaking spaces where they were previously excluded.

The 2020s is bearing witness to the increasing militarisation of ecological challenges – the takeover of climate action and environmental sustainability by military and security sectors, or what I call, the emergence of green militarism – and to the civil society resistance thereto. One such avenue of resistance that has come out of my encounters with green militarism and its refusal, is to drive and support initiatives that link together demilitarisation, decriminalisation, decarbonisation and decolonisation. In other words, fostering thought, action and movements that recognise the inseparability of these four Ds as solutions to the linked harms caused by militarism, criminalisation, extractivism and colonialism.

This is where my work as doctoral researcher, policy analyst and civil society coordinator and communicator has led me. Throughout this work however, I keep – at times knowingly, in others, subconsciously – battling with a recurring theme that my PhD supervisor so aptly recognised as that abiding “perennial challenge for movements”: what is the relationship between knowledge and change? Between awareness and action? Analysis and organising? To what extent can my attempts to visibilise systems of harm as a researcher aid in or spur the kinds of action needed to disrupt those systems? What happens to all that public education and awareness-raising if there is not an adequate theory of care3 to then catalyse practice?

These are monumental questions. For now, I use this memo to share some reflections from my attempts to notice the military-ecological nexus suggesting how they hold clues as to how green militarism works to both impede collective action and to drive new contexts and alliances of resistance work.

Thinking: Noticing Through Research 

To policymakers, think tanks and military staff across Europe and North America, whether war can be environmentally sustainable is not a rhetorical question. Since 2020, these regions have seen a frenzied release of military climate action plans, most notably driven by the US, the UK, NATO and the European Union. This is a fast moving field, connecting and cutting across parliamentary, government, military, civil and industry actors, public and private, national and international.4 Military sectors’ waking up to the impacts of ecological degradation on military capabilities and national security along with the military’s own contribution to global warming, seems timely, indeed necessary. Yet, the narratives underpinning the sustainability strategies, positing military and climate action as compatible, stand in direct opposition to resistance movements’ highlighting of the negative ecological impact and injustices caused by military practice and an overemphasis on military over other forms of security. Across the globe, campaigners are rallying against the emerging myth that war can be made environmentally sustainable. Can war be greened? If yes, should it? Is that where our efforts and resources are best spent? If not, what is at stake as military actors step in to grab the green-transition steering wheel?

To grapple with these processes, I engage with four main areas of analysis: 1) visibilising militarism and war’s ecological costs; 2) juxtaposing these costs with military sectors’ pivot toward climate security; 3) studying and disrupting the normalisation of “green war” and “sustainable arms” policies; 4) exploring the implications of a martial green transition for just eco-social transitions. Below I draw out key insights from these areas.

1) A common denominatorin the history of militarism’s contribution to ecological degradation, is the systematic withholding of knowledge by military powers like the UK and the US regarding the carbon costs of their wars and military activities, as well as the severe social-ecological fallout from the production and use of conventional and unconventional weapons. Unless we learn from this past and employ it in our critique of the present, military actors will meet little resistance as they go on to become credited as drivers of climate action, natural conservationists and environmental protectors. I draw attention to national security and military doctrines’ obscured long-term harm to motivate critical thinking about what is really going on behind the scenes as military sectors step up as agents of environmental care. Through giving visibility to the concealed ecological costs of war and military practice, and their humanitarian consequences, we stand a better chance at critically interrogating the notion of green(able) war, and the disconnect between what is promised in military-climate rhetorics and the practices they refer to.

2) There runs a clear red thread throughout the green war agendas published by the US, UK, NATO and the EU, in that they define and fix climate change as a security issue: as a threat-multiplier, or a “hyperthreat”, with grave geostrategic and national security implications. This corresponds with the climate and environmental security narratives that have dominated policy approaches to climate change and environmental degradation in recent decades, which reduce thinking and action around ecological crises to a concern with their “security implications.” This framing makes it possible for defence departments and military institutions to position the military as a necessary actor in an inevitable “war on climate change” and in the impending “climate wars.” It enables the promotion of military security doctrines and military-industrial solutions as the natural responses to the global insecurities and conflicts that are assumed to spread with worsening environmental conditions. What is particularly striking about these agendas is how they take for granted dystopian worst-case scenario understandings of climate change and societies and peoples’ assumed inability to respond to environmental insecurities in nonviolent ways. This normalises the military’s response as one based on adapting to and preparing for these scenarios rather than putting all our might towards preventing them from becoming true.

3) Even more striking is how the agendas not only suggest military remedies to ecological emergencies, but also position the military sector itself as a frontrunner in the green transition. Defence ministries and armed forces rely heavily on a close collaboration with the military industry to drive research and production of green military technologies meant to reduce the military’s reliance on fossil fuels and decrease pollution from weaponry and warfighting. This co-option of environmental sustainability by military actors is being justified through defining military security as inextricable from sustainability: arguing that the arms industry makes a de facto vital contribution to a more sustainable world through helping to ensure security.5 The naturalisation of this link depends on a world in which militarised forms of security are so normalised that we accept defence ministry and arms industry discourses around security and sustainability at face value. Unless we ask what kind of security is really invoked here, we will fail to apprehend what kind of sustainability military actors can guarantee. Military sectors’ wiring towards maintaining control, securing an unjust status quo and reacting to symptoms rather than addressing root causes behind conflict, predisposes the sector’s understanding of security and sustainability as one serving the interests of those with power and resources to the detriment of those without.

4) The agendas make clear that these military sectors will only work towards climate action as long as this helps maintain or boost their nations’ military superiority. Through presenting war as greenable it becomes possible to also present climate action and environmental care as compatible with military practice. It also makes it possible for the military to promote itself as going green without being challenged on the fact that it is doing so only so far as a greener practice allows these nations to become better at war – not to save the planet. The notion that military dominance and climate mitigation can go hand in hand hinges upon the belief that green tech solutions will allow military doctrines and deployment rates to go on unchanged, instead of rethinking the extent of present-day warfighting. By contrast, the latter would require restructuring and downsizing militaries and their missions. What does this mean for collective action for ecological justice? What we are witnessing is the creation of a powerful myth that the military sector utilises to undermine ecological justice arguments that view the military as a primary culprit behind ecological crises. Together, climate security policies and military sustainability agendas silence and rule out non-military responses that acknowledge that ecological harms must be addressed holistically and multilaterally as non-military challenges.

Green militarism is thus particularly harmful to just transition movements who view disarmament, demilitarisation and decriminalisation as necessary aspects of tackling climate chaos. Though they need to be contextualised, ecological justice frames come together in a shared understanding for how ecological harms – their causes, embodiments and solutions – are systemic. This means that they are structurally bound up with other distributive injustices (social inequity) and intersecting forms of violence, oppression and exploitation (as much against humans and non- and more-than-human worlds).6 Addressing ecological harms requires intersectional forms of both social critique and holistic thinking – the very antithesis to mono-directional military approaches reducing ecological emergencies to their (national, economic, energy, military) security implications.

Acting: Collective Action from Policy to Grassroots

There is fast growing momentum to drive new contexts of collective action through bringing together peace, justice and ecological movements. 2022 and 2023 saw a veritable boom in initiatives bringing war, militarism, criminalisation and policing, climate change and wider ecological challenges together as joint causes. In strengthening connections across these movements there lies great potential to enhance the capacity, creativity and reach of intersectional mobilisation efforts that demand nothing short of system’s change.

The movements I have encountered working on this nexus map onto a typology of collective action, featuring various methodologies for, approaches to and contexts of resistance work. These include (not limited to): civil society-led research7; public education and awareness raising; multilateral and parliamentary advocacy; participation in political and judicial processes; divestment and boycott campaigns; civil disobedience and direct action; storytelling and creative practices; local or community-based eco-social practices and relations. Some are more elite-driven, others more grassroots-based. Some promote direct forms of physical or economic disruption, others indirect mechanisms to disrupt the more abstract processes that also structure social relations, like language and knowledge. Some target virtual mass audiences drawing on digital media of communication, others are entirely tactile and practical, such as working and caring for the land or sharing food, stories and embraces. Of course, most initiatives are not reducible to policy-driven versus grassroots or indirect versus direct action, but often involve aspects of all types. This is seen in initiatives like the Grassroots Global Justice Alliance or the Climate Justice Coalition, promoting cooperation across national and international advocacy groups, community leaders and local activists and practitioners.8 Let’s look at some other initiatives.

1) Advocacy and legal campaigns include initiatives, which: call for international law to protect the environment during armed conflict and ensure accountability for casualties of slow violence; demand an end to militaries’ exclusion from international obligations to reduce carbon emissions; utilise UN human rights bodies to challenge states’ nuclear weapons policies as in violation of the Right to Life through contributing to climate change and environmental degradation; utilise the International Court of Justice to enshrine in international law states’ obligation to act for climate justice, including through demilitarisation and disarmament; take oil and military mining companies to court on the basis of their ecological destruction and practices of social warfare. Divestment campaigns are targeting military spending as a driver of climate disaster, demonstrating how companies, individuals and pension funds can divest from nuclear weapons and arms industries to directly benefit climate financing, action and reparations. Similar initiatives are promoting concrete strategies for transitioning fossil and arms factories and workers to industry, science and technology that meet social and ecological rather than market and military needs.9

2) Fight Toxic Prisons, Stop Cop City and XR Peace exemplify more direct forms of action targeting the intersections between militarism, policing, ecocide and ecological injustice.10 Actions range from resource-sharing, mutual aid and solidarity network-building, to organising mass demos, disrupting military and corporate logistics chains, and occupying factories and infrastructure or natural areas at risk of destruction. Representing another side of grassroots action, racialised and indigenous communities across the world, living at the frontlines of both global war and global warming, practice myriad forms of eco-social resistance in their everyday lives, embodying what it can mean to believe in and act towards just decolonial eco-social transitions. These include indigenous land defense, worker’s rights and social justice struggles against military bases, fossil and renewable energy extraction projects, military minerals’ mining and chemical industries. From Mexico, Peru and Colombia, to Germany, Canada and the US, to Congo, Nigeria and Madagascar, Egypt to India to Montenegro, collective ecological justice actors are resisting military occupation, corporate dispossession, ecocide and social warfare all at once.11

Crystallising resistance work that practically addresses the intersecting harms of military occupation and ecological injustice at the community-level, is the Palestinian practice of eco-sumud. Eco-sumud represents the everyday steadfastness of Palestinians in their efforts to stay on their lands combined with environmentally sustainable ways of relating to and living through the land – simultaneously acting toward self-determination and ecological justice.12 Casa Pueblo in Puerto Rico is another powerful example of how to bridge the gap between theorising and practising eco-social resistance and transformation. Building a movement organising around the pillars of science, culture and community, Casa Pueblo effectively linked the need for producing and sharing knowledge with a conscience that is grounded in local culture and rooted in as well as geared towards building a thriving community.13 A final example, illustrative of the full typology of resistance methods, is the Save Sinjajevina campaign in Montenegro, bringing together farmers, scientists, international NGOs, politicians and ordinary citizens. The network is tasked with resisting the NATO-led takeover of the Sinjajevina-Durmitor mountain range as a military training ground, and works to protect local ownership and sustainable uses of the land, as well as the unique biodiversity that makes Sinjajevina vital to wider European ecological systems.14

From the Art to the Act of Noticing?

The nexus between militarism and ecological injustice offers plenty of opportunities for innovation and expansion of collective action, specifically through bringing together several widespread and long-weathered social movements. Much is being done to this end, but cooperation can be strengthened still. The imperative remains, to continue building movements tied together by a common dedication to demilitarisation, decriminalisation, decarbonisation and decolonisation, operating across the spectra of resistance methods. The necessarily local-global focus of such movements, the need for constantly juxtaposing local realities and practitioners with global systems of power, resources and harm, is both a blessing and a curse. It requires acute forms of sensitivity and tolerance, thinking and acting according to experiences and needs that are at once situated and global, particular and generic, human and non-human. Some of the biggest limitations to collective action in these fields thus remain barriers around language, resources and access – structural and cultural inequities that stem from the same relations of power that decolonial anti-militarist eco-social justice movements would labour to dismantle. 

Returning to that initial challenge for movements, it is evident that without a theory of care that is up to the task of practicallyaddressing the intersections of harm that constitute today’s “poly-crisis”, awareness of how these harms are linked will only take us so far. Nonetheless, the acts of probing, interrogating and noticing, uncovering and communicating, are necessary methodologies for tackling the evident knowledge gaps that feed the fragmentation of social movements and increase the distance between “the activist” and “the public.” They are also necessary for visualising the ways in which knowledge itself – its withholding and strategic moulding – is operationalised to inhibit the momentum for and drive toward collective action. In this sense, thinking remains an essential stepping stone toward dynamic, informed and inclusive forms of acting. What’s more, having the time and space to do thinking is a privilege. To research conditions of harm, rather than spend the everyday in their grips. This is where the politics and the privileges of my research and activism meet, as someone by my social markers complicit in the systems of oppression and violence I research and speak against, and so, why it is imperative that I employ this privilege – the time to think, the access to knowledge and credibility, the platforms that make one heard – at the service of action.

And yet, this is not the same as saying that research must serve a ‘cause’, that thinking has to have a purpose. I am equally a supporter of thinking for thinking’s sake, a “lover of knowledge” and of “failed scholarship”, ideas that are “meaningful” even if they are not “useful.”15 I envision for my academic writing and communications work to become odes to storytelling and speculation, the kind of thinking that refutes instrumentalisation (in the extractive sense) and upends naturalised metrics of the “commonsensical” in order to think up ways of being, seeing, feeling – of collective thriving – that are not yet real, not yet possible without our going there in our minds.16 As a scholar-practitioner or researcher-activist, my work constantly battles with this tension and balances on the proverbial knife’s edge of attempting to do both: to think for the sake of thinking, though thoughts that might prove put to use-able. As we – as academics, practitioners, publics, collective actors, private persons – go on swaying back and forth along this knife’s edge, we come closer to answering that perennial question of how the relationships between knowledge and change, awareness and action, impact the possibilities for collective thriving and action – and what to do about it.

Access the related publication, “Resisting Green Militarism:  Building Movements for Peace and Eco-Social Justice  Resisting Green Militarism” by Nico Edwards.


1.  Anna Tsing, The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins, United States: Princeton University Press (2015).

2. Anna Tsing, Heather Swanson, Elaine Gan, and Nils Bubandt (eds), Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet: Ghosts and Monsters of the Anthropocene, United States: University of Minnesota Press (2017); Donna J. Haraway, When Species Meet, United States: University of Minnesota Press (2007); –, Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene, United States: Duke University Press (2016).

3. In my initial workshop presentation I used theory of change, but B Arneson’s sharp feedback on the co-option of this term by market actors forcing nongovernmental organisations to instrumentalise theories of change to appear palatable to private funders, compelled me to abandon this term. Following B, why not a theory of care instead, of mutual aid?

4.  For references to these policy developments, see:;


6.  Some reading on ecological justice: Farhana Sultana, ‘The Unbearable Heaviness of Climate Coloniality’, Political Geography (March 2022); Leah Thomas, The intersectional environmentalist: how to dismantle systems of oppression for people + planet, Profile Books Ltd (2022); Manal Shqair and Mahmoud Soliman, ‘Rethinking the everyday domestic sphere: Palestinian women as environmentalist and anti-colonial warriors’, Community Development Journal, 57:1 (2021): 40-51; Rob Nixon, Slow Violence and the Environmentalisms of the Poor, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press (2011).  

7. Recognising a persisting knowledge gap, to support campaigns around the links between demilitarisation and ecological justice, civil society is driving cutting-edge research around the nexus. These efforts come a long way in exposing the ecological cost of militarism and help identify the military(extractive)industrial interests that underpin and sustain military practice globally. See e.g.:;; ;;;;; Buxton Nick, and Ben Hayes, The Secure and the Dispossessed, Transnational Institute (2015); Rajaeifar, Mohammad Ali, Oliver Belcher, Stuart Parkinson, Benjamin Neimark, Doug Weir, Kirsti Ashworth, Reuben Larbi, and Oliver Heidrich, ‘Decarbonize the Military — Mandate Emissions Reporting’, Nature 611:7934 (2022): 29–32; Yeltekin, Dafne, Zainab Koli, and Lizander Oros, ‘Abolishing the War on Climate: Pathways for Collective Ecological Security’, Perspectives on Global Development and Technology 21: 5–6 (2023): 490–511.

8.;; See also

9.  (Some) organisations doing advocacy, legal and divestment work:;;;;;;;;;;;;  


11. For examples of eco-social, just transition and anti-militarism and ecological injustice grassroots struggles, movements and practices, see: Angele Alook, Emily Eaton, David Gray-Donald, Joël Laforest, Crystal Lameman, Bronwen Tucker, The end of this world: climate justice in so-called Canada, Toronto: Between the Lines (2023); Daniel Selwyn, ‘Martial Mining: Resisting Extractivism and War Together’, The London Mining Network, (November 2020); Daniela Philipson García, ‘Feminist Interventions: Resisting the Militarisation of the Climate Crisis’, The Women’s Environment and Development Organisation and Centre for Feminist Foreign Policy, (June 2023);  Alexander Dunlap, ‘“Agro Sí, Mina NO!” The Tía Maria Copper Mine, State Terrorism and Social War by Every Means in the Tambo Valley, Peru’. Political Geography 71 (May 2019): 10–25; Alexander Dunlap and Martín Correa Arce ‘“Murderous Energy” in Oaxaca, Mexico: Wind Factories, Territorial Struggle and Social Warfare’, The Journal of Peasant Studies 49:2 (2022): 455–80; Alexander Dunlap and Andrea Brock, eds. Enforcing Ecocide: Power, Policing & Planetary Militarization, Cham: Springer International Publishing (2022); Nick Estes, Our History if the Future: Standing Rock Versus Dakota Access Pipeline and the Long Tradition of Indigenous Resistance, London and New York: Verso (2019); Nixon, Slow Violence and the Environmentalisms of the Poor; Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass, Penguin (2020).   

12. Manal Shqair, ‘Arab-Israeli eco-normalisation: Greenwashing settler colonialism in Palestine and the Jawlan’, in Hamza Hamouchene and Katie Sandwell, eds., Dismantling Green Colonialism: Energy and Climate Justice in the Arab Region, (2023), London: Pluto Press.

13. I learnt about Casa Pueblo from Gustavo Garçia Lopez and am deeply grateful to him for bringing my attention to the long history of rooted community praxes of eco-social resistance, “re-existence” and “world-making” in Puerto Rico. See: Alexis Massol González, Casa Pueblo: A Puerto Rican Model of Self-Governance, Ann Arbor: Lever Press (2022); Katia Avilés-Vázquez, Gustavo García López, Carol Ramos-Gerena, Evelyn Ortiz, Elga Uriarte-Centeno, Roberto Ramírez, Jesúsm Vázquez-Negrón, Marissa Díaz, José Valderrama and Angélica Díaz. ‘Environmental justice movements as movements for life and decolonization’, in Beatriz Bustos, Salvatore Engel-Di Mauro, Gustavo García-López, Felipe Milanez, Diana Ojeda (eds.) Routledge Handbook of Latin America and the Environment, London: Routledge (2023).

14.  ​​

15.  Victor Jairus Grove, Savage Ecology: War and Geopolitics at the End of the World, Durham: Duke University Press (2019), pp. 26-27.

16.  Aimee Bahng, Migrant Futures: Decolonizing Speculation in Financial Times, Durham: Duke University Press (2018); Judith Halberstam, The Queer Art of Failure, Durham: Duke University Press (2011); Saidiya Hartman, Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Social Upheaval, New York: W.W. Norton & Company (2019); Marcus Fisher, Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative?, Winchester: Zero Books (2009).

Nico is a researcher with WPF's program, Revitalizing Debate on the Arms Trade, and author of the WPF published report, "Resisting Green Militarism:  Building Movements for Peace and Eco-Social Justice" (2023). She is a second year full-time PHD Student in International Relations and a UKRI ESRC SeNSS student-led studentship awardee (fully funded 2022-2026). Her doctoral research project, supervised by Prof Anna Stavrianakis and Dr Andrea Brock, explores the drivers and implications of the ongoing environmental sustainability pivot in military industry and practice, and zooms in on military sector actors' balancing between strategy and sustainability. Nico has a substantial background in international humanitarian law, political economy and interdisciplinary peace and security studies from SOAS University of London, where her research rigour and critical thinking awarded her the Best Student Profile three out of four years, a wide array of scholarships and grants, and the department-wide Best Dissertation Prize for her postgraduate research on the Arms Trade Treaty. As a recent graduate, Nico entered the field of policy research, parliamentary advocacy and communitarian journalism, becoming an experienced Policy, Program and Communications Officer through placements with various third sector organisations such as Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament, La Otra Juventud (Colombia) and PeaceWorks Sweden. She has volunteered for NGOs like Action on Armed Violence, carrying out research and advocacy around victim assistance, collective security and climate action. Next to the PhD, Nico acts as Advisor to Scientists for Global Responsibility, and is recognised as an Emerging Expert with Forum on the Arms Trade.

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