Calling for climate action in the US military
By Suzanne Klein Flierl
Our dedication to a military war economy is firmly rooted in systemic racism, poverty, and ecological and environmental devastation. Here at home, young adults from communities of color and poor white households are forced by a system that favors the wealthy and corporations, to fight the wars created most often by rich white men and private corporate interests. Globally, the majority of victims are the poor of the nations we invade, and they too are often People of Color.
But there’s also a huge environmental impact from our thirst for military expansion and our dependence upon imperialism, colonization, and a war economy.
Many of us have heard about the military’s environmental disasters. In December 2021, around 6000 people were sickened when jet fuel from a World War II-era Navy storage facility leaked into drinking water aquifers in Hawaii. At the base in Camp Lejeune, up to 1 million people were exposed to contaminated drinking water over the course of 25 long years. And on military bases built for America’s post-9/11 wars, computers, furniture, medical waste, and other items were burned in pits that released poisonous smoke. Those fumes were inhaled by both soldiers and civilians.
These crises are bad enough, but the whole military-industrial complex runs on a system of environmental harm. Since 2001, the military has been responsible for 77 to 80 percent of our total federal energy consumption. The DOD maintains more than 560,000 buildings on about 800 bases around the world, and they’re responsible for a large portion of its emissions. Our military is the largest consumer of fossil fuels and energy within the whole US government, having emissions equivalent to 51 million metric CO2 tons each year. That same amount of energy would cover all of the annual energy costs of all the homes in the five most populated states in the US. The Pentagon actually consumes more fossil fuels than most countries!
The military relies on an extensive network of fossil-fueled ships, trucks, planes, and other vehicles to support its operations, all of which makes the military a key contributor to climate change. And then, to make things worse, they try to hide the harm they inflict on the environment. The United States military and the Department of Defense tried to keep our military greenhouse gas emissions out of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol counting process so that it would not be part of the national emissions reporting plan. They wanted to hide the fact that the US military is one of the largest polluters in history. Shame on them!
But the impact of the military on the environment doesn’t even stop there. As we continue to militarize our domestic policing system, the damage done by the military-industrial complex causes even more harm. We know that the destruction of our forests and green spaces causes massive destruction to the environment and that protecting these spaces is crucially important to our very survival. As long as governments at all levels fail to protect these places, we won’t make our situation any better.
This is one of many reasons why we need to stop places like Cop City near Atlanta. In addition to unnecessarily militarizing the police force and increasing the surveillance of predominantly Black communities there, the city of Atlanta has taken 381 acres of the Weelaunee Forest, land stolen from the Muscogee Nation in the first place, and leased it to the Atlanta Police Foundation to build an 81 acre police military facility. Police will be trained in urban warfare and the facility will even have a landing pad for Black Hawk helicopters. The space occupied by the facility alone will reduce the forest’s ability to remove gases and other particles by more than 1000 tons per year. We stand in solidarity with those protesting to save the forest and Stop Cop City!
Our time is critically short to curtail our destruction of the earth, and a movement toward a peace economy would go a long way in helping to heal the damage we continue to do by waging endless war. – We could save as much as $350 billion per year by cutting current Pentagon spending to fight war, to stoke a dangerous arms race, and to subsidize for-profit corporate contractors. Even with these major changes, our military budget would still be larger than that of China, Russia, and Iran combined, and we’d be doing much to lessen the destruction of the planet. We must move now, though, because Tomorrow Is Too Late.
People can reach out at [email protected], if interested in engaging on climate, or any social issues.