U.S. Military: World’s Biggest Polluter

In 2009, when President Obama first proposed the “surge” in Afghanistan, I wrote that the left should pose the question: “What’s the carbon footprint of this new Afghan policy?” I felt this presented a golden opportunity to unite anti-war and pro-environmental forces as well as provide mainstream America with a new awareness about our nation’s many military adventures.

Almost 18 months have passed, we are involved in wars from Libya to Pakistan, but up until last week when I attended a talk given by Barry Sanders I’d been unaware of any thorough investigation of the issue.

Sanders talked about his new book, The Green Zone: The Environmental Cost of Militarism, in which he documents that our military is “the largest single source of pollution … in the world.” He draws the very sobering conclusion in his introduction: “Even if every person in America decided to stop driving today and even if every polluting factory in the country voluntarily shut down its operations … [the] environment would still face a most serious assault. And ironically, that greatest single assault on the environment, on all of us around the globe, comes from one agency… the Armed Forces of the United States.”

The rest of the book proves this point with one horrifying statistic after another. Our military uses 25% of the world’s jet fuel (p.50). The Aircraft Carrier USS Independence burns 134 barrels of oil per hour (p. 59). Of course, CO2 production is just one of a laundry list of war-created ecological disasters.

This information cries out for dissemination. Anti-war activists who don’t point this out are missing a chance to make a potent new argument for their position. Environmentalists who don’t scream bloody murder about this are disregarding a grave, if not the gravest, threat to what they seek to protect. And if the left doesn’t talk about it, no one will. The mainstream media are mute about military pollution and so are reports emanating from international climate control conferences.

I can’t help but feel that much of the environmental movement has been suckered by a political “bait and switch.” It is good to conserve, recycle, drive hybrids if we must drive, and put solar panels on our roofs if we can, but if that distracts us from taking on the biggest polluter of all, what we do will be more symbolic than effective. Tightening clean water and air regulations is fine, but they’ll accomplish relatively little if the military is exempt.

Some who read this may shake their heads in dismay at what must seem like yet another impossible task. Taking on the U.S. military and their corporate allies is daunting. But how can we expect to bring about a radical transformation of our society without changing the nature of its most powerful institutions? I know we have a massive trek before us to bring about this change, but I believe that framing the issue of war and peace in environmental as well as humanitarian terms is a step in the right direction.

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