Connecting the Dots: Climate Change and Militarism

Phil Anderson

“War is an environmental nightmare that pollutes and contaminates every place it is fought, while contributing substantially to the carbon load of the planet.”
Michael Eisenscher, author and peace activist.

“You can’t separate climate justice and militarism… because the drones are going to follow the fresh water, and the soldiers are going to protect the oil, and then if things go on as they are, game over for the planet.”
John Cusack, actor, screenwriter and environmental activist

The Water Is Life Festival this coming weekend got me thinking about connections. The festival is this Sunday, July 21, at Bayfront Festival Park. It is sponsored by Honor the Earth, a Native American environmental organization. They stress humanity’s connections with and dependence on nature. They believe our economic, social, and political life must be based on  just relationships with each other and with the natural world. Conquering and exploiting nature is not sustainable as climate change problems are demonstrating.

Too many of us belief that humans are special, above nature, and that our technology will save us from the consequences of our greedy, exploitative actions. But there are many  examples of this human hubris resulting in disasters. Climate change is only one. Today we face many serious challenges from pollution, water shortages, drug resistant microbes, over population, over fishing, resource depletion, and species loss. Everything is connected. We are just one of many animals on this earth and we are subject to the physical, chemical, and biological laws of the universe.

All the various other social and political issues are also connected. The same greedy business model that sacrifices the environment for profit will promote poverty wages, cut worker safety, oppose consumer protection, and exploit minorities. We have to understand the connections and come together to solve problems. An Injury to one is an injury to all.

One of the connections often missed in climate change discussions is the huge impact of the bloated military-industrial complex on ecosystems around the world. One of the “inconvenient truths” about climate change is the massive carbon dioxide contributions of the U.S Military. As Michael Eisenscher, the National Coordinator of U.S Labor Against War, tells us,

“The truth is that preventing climate change from inflicting cataclysmic damage to our ecosystem and threatening much of life on earth and civilization as we know it cannot be accomplished unless we also demilitarize our foreign policy, end interventionist wars and break the grip that both Big Carbon and the military-industrial complex have on our federal budget, foreign policy, economy and government.”

The Pentagon is the world’s single largest consumer of oil. The U.S. military is one of the world’s top greenhouse gas emitters. They burn 25% of the total U.S. consumption of oil. The U.S. Air Force is the single largest consumer of jet fuel in the world. Our military is exempt from all environmental regulations.

This is only one aspect of the environmental impact of our national obsession with war and preparation for war. War itself is an environmental disaster. War destroys people, places, resources and the planet. There are many examples going back centuries. In France, one hundred years after the WW I battle of Verdun, 460 square miles of country is still littered with unexploded shells and poisoned by arsenic. North Korea was largely laid waste in the Korean War. Today one third of the land in Laos is contaminated with unexploded ordnance left over from the Vietnam War. At least 20,000 people have been killed or injured by unexploded ordnance in Laos since the end of that war. In Vietnam the U.S. military’s deliberate destruction of the environment as a military strategy gave rise to the concept of “ecocide.”  The U.S. sprayed more than 20 million gallons of cancer causing dioxin herbicides (Agent Orange) over Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos from 1961 to 1971. About 14 percent of southern Vietnam’s hardwood forests were destroyed and half of their mangroves were killed by these defoliants. Agent Orange is linked to serious health issues including cancers, severe psychological and neurological problems, and birth defects. Both Vietnamese, U.S. military personnel, and their children suffer from agent orange health problems today. Similar health issues are happening in Iraq and Afghanistan from the use of depleted uranium munitions in those wars.

The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists identifies two threats that “put the future of civilization in extraordinary danger.” These are climate change and nuclear weapons. The threat of a nuclear exchange or accident is real. But the simple existence nuclear weapons is also a threat. The production and testing of nuclear weapons has resulted in widespread contamination of soil and water in the U.S. The Department of Energy nuclear weapons facilities are the most serious Superfund sites in the country. Savannah River in South Carolina and the Hanford facility in Washington along the Columbia River are two of the most polluted places in the country. There are dozens of sites across the country leaking nuclear toxic waste and other radioactive and hazardous materials.

Regular military bases are major polluters. The EPA  lists 130 military installations as Superfund sites. During the Cold War military personnel were exposed to chemical and biological warfare materials such as nerve agents, blister agents, hallucinogens and biological agent testing. News reports this week say there are 401 military air bases that have groundwater contamination by PFAC which are used in fire fighting foam. 

Ria Verjauw with the International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons (which opposes depleted uranium munitions) sums up the issues well,

“Everything is interconnected: armed conflicts – human rights violations – environmental pollution – climate change – social injustice... Climate change and environmental pollution are inescapably part of modern warfare. The role of the military in climate change is enormous. Oil is indispensable for war. Militarism is the most oil-exhaustive activity on the planet. Any talk of climate change that does not include the military is nothing but hot air.”  

Come to the Water is Life Festival. Have a good time, help the environment, and get connected with other concerned citizens. “When the last tree has been cut down, the last fish caught, the last river poisoned, only then will we realize that one cannot eat money.”