Mr. President, What's the Carbon Footprint of the Surge in Afghanistan

I started this blog to address issues of particular concern to the RFC community. I hope you will agree that I’ve done that in the 31 blogs I’ve posted since I started on this path last spring. For the final installment of 2009 I’m going to shed this restraint and post something that I hope will be of general interest to everyone, rather than just RFC readers.

I’ve watched with dismay as President Obama has charted a course of escalation in Afghanistan. How ironic that this intensification of war has been sandwiched between Obama’s receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize and the International Climate Control Conference in Copenhagen. What a constellation of occurrences we’ve witnessed in the past two months.

I find it startling that no one who I’ve read, even on the left, has juxtaposed these events and asked the simple question: “What’s the carbon footprint of this new Afghan policy?”

I’ve read and been told that no single institution in the United States has a bigger carbon footprint than our military. And given that our nation is the second largest producer of CO2 (first in per capita production) in the world, that means it is possible, perhaps even likely, that the United States military as an institution has a collective carbon footprint that is greater than any other institution on the planet.

After learning of Obama’s war plan and hearing his pious pleas in Copenhagen, I couldn’t help wonder if the first more than canceled out the second.

I believe that progressives have a golden opportunity to pose this simple question, not only to unite anti-war and pro-environmental forces, but also to give many mainstream Americans a new awareness of a major downside of our nation’s many military adventures.

Sometimes when I’m out working in my garden, I look up in response to the rumble of a giant C-5A military transport plane ponderously practicing runaway approaches at the nearby Westover Air National Guard Base. Each one of those planes is producing many times more CO2 in one afternoon than I will in my entire lifetime.

This thought fuels a fantasy I’ve imagined these last few weeks. I’m watching a Presidential visit to an elementary school. A charming fourth-grader innocently asks Obama: “Mr. President, what’s the carbon footprint of the surge in Afghanistan?”

I wonder at his response and hope our people will learn something important from this child’s question.

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