There is no place on earth which is not suffering from the two greatest threats to the world today: imperialist war and occupation, and environmental degradation. As the governments of rich countries like the US, UK, France and Canada face off against each other in an increasingly bloody and desperate attempt to secure dwindling resources and maintain slipping profits, they've dragged the rest of us down with them. While many of us know about these two threats separately, it's important to also emphasize how their wars are actually the biggest contributor to environmental degradation around the world. It's another one of their dirty little secrets, and below are 10 things they didn't want you to know about it.
1. The single largest institutional consumer of fossil fuels in the world is the US Department of Defense
The US Department of Defense (DoD) uses 4.6 trillion US gallons of fuel every year, which is an average of 12.6 million US gallons (48 million litres) of fuel per day. According to the 2005 CIA World Factbook, if it were a country, the DoD would rank 34th in the world in average daily oil use, coming in just behind Iraq and just ahead of Sweden. It has been estimated that during the initial invasion of Iraq the US consumed 190.8 million litres of oil every month! Two thirds of this fuel was used delivering more fuel to the vehicles at the battlefront.
2. Despite being the largest consumer of fossil fuels in the world, the US military has been exempt from reporting its greenhouse gas emissions
Obtaining recent and accurate figures about US military fuel usage and greenhouse gas emission has been difficult because the US has forced its military to be exempt from international climate agreements. It demanded and won the exemption from the Kyoto Protocol in 1998 (and then pulled out of the agreement anyway), and required the same exemption from the UN Copenhagen Agreement in 2009. As Sarah Flounders of the International Action Centre pointed out, “The Pentagon wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; its secret operations in Pakistan; its equipment on more than 1,000 U.S. bases around the world; its 6,000 facilities in the U.S.; all NATO operations; its aircraft carriers, jet aircraft, weapons testing, training and sales will not be counted against U.S. greenhouse gas limits or included in any count.”
Under the newest UN Climate Agreement recently signed in Paris, countries are no longer automatically exempt from military emissions reporting, but they are also not obliged to cut any of their emissions either.
3. They have destroyed the environment as part of their military strategies, with devastating consequences which are still being felt today.
During its war against Vietnam in the 1960s and 1970's, the US military used massive amounts of chemical agents to destroy forests and vegetation to limit where Vietnamese people could take cover and to destroy their food crops. More than 20 million gallons of “Agent Orange” herbicide were sprayed, destroying forests which have yet to recover, and exposing 4.8 million Vietnamese people to the poison. This resulted in 400,000 deaths and disabilities, as well as 500,000 children born with birth defects, and gave rise to the concept of “ecocide” - the deliberate destruction of environment as a military strategy.
4. They continue to find new ways to destroy the environment and human life
The US and NATO used Depleted Uranium (DU) weapons in the 1991 Gulf War, the 1999 bombing of Yugoslavia and the 2003 invasion of Iraq. It is estimated that between 315 and 350 tons of DU were used in the 1991 Gulf War. DU is favoured for “penetrating” weapons because it is self-sharpening and flammable. This means it can penetrate through heavy armour, and then explode and kill whatever is inside.
Reporter Dahr Jamail visited the Iraqi city of Fallujah after a massive US siege in 2004. He summarized, "The U.S. invasion of Iraq has left behind a legacy of cancer and birth defects suspected of being caused by the U.S. military's extensive use of depleted uranium and white phosphorus...What this has generated is, from 2004 up to this day, we are seeing a rate of congenital malformations [birth defects] in the city of Fallujah that has surpassed even that in the wake of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that nuclear bombs were dropped on at the end of World War II.”
Depending on the type, DU has a half life of between 703 million and 4.468 billion years, so there is no end in sight to the atrocities for the people of Falljuah.
5. They ruined the rest of Iraq's environment too
Steve Kretzmann, director of Oil Change International, reported: "The Iraq war was responsible for at least 141 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent from March 2003 through December 2007. ... The war emits more than 60 percent of all countries.” A former food exporter, Iraq's soil is dead after decades of the effects of war. It now imports 80 percent of its food, and the Iraqi Agriculture Ministry estimates that 90 percent of the land has severe desertification.
Adding insult to injury, rebuilding Iraqi schools, homes, businesses, bridges, roads and hospitals pulverized by the war, and new security walls and barriers will require millions of tons of cement, one of the largest industrial sources of greenhouse gas emissions.
6. Afghanistan's environment is being destroyed by their wars as well
In 2003, two years after the invasion and occupation by the US, Canada and their allies, the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) released its evaluation of Afghanistan’s environment. The UNEP report claimed that war and long-standing drought, “have caused serious and widespread land and resource degradation, including lowered water tables, desiccation of wetlands, deforestation and widespread loss of vegetative cover, erosion, and loss of wildlife populations.”
The Costs of War Project says illegal logging by US-backed warlords and wood harvesting by refugees caused more than one-third of Afghanistan’s forests to vanish between 1990 and 2007. Drought, desertification and species loss have resulted. Environmental advisor Ghulam Malikya concluded, “War has brought poverty. Poverty is one of the main sources of environmental degradation because people are forced to use different sources of energy. And the same with natural resources – they use it up for energy, for livelihood.”
7. They pollute their own countries too
As H. Patriciat Hynes, retired Professor of Environmental Health from Boston University School of Public Health documented in her article “Military Waste Sickens Lands and People”, “By the late 1980’s, public data revealed that the Pentagon was generating a ton of toxic waste per minute, more toxic waste than the five largest US chemical companies combined, making it the largest polluter in the United States. (This figure did not include the Department of Energy’s nuclear weapons plants and the Pentagon’s civilian contractors.) The Army Corps of Engineers labeled the 100-acre basin at Rocky Mountain Arsenal near Denver, Colorado, which stored waste from the production of nerve gas and pesticides from World War II through the Vietnam War era, 'the earth’s most toxic square mile.' ”
“Today nearly 900 of Environmental Protection Agency’s approximately 1,300 Superfund sites – the suite of waste sites classified as those most hazardous to human and ecological health – are abandoned military bases or facilities or military industrial manufacturing and testing sites that produced weapons, military vehicles, and other military-related products and services.”
In Canada, the indigenous community of Deline in the Northwest Territories has become known as the “Village of Widows”. Located on the shores of Sahtu (Great Bear Lake), men from the community were employed by the Canadian Government in transporting radioactive uranium from the local mine during World War II and for many years after. The ore was sold to the US military and became fuel for the bombs that devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Tons of tailings both radium and uranium mine were also dumped without consent directly into the lake and used as landfill. Most of the men who worked as mine labourers died of cancer, leaving their families and the community devastated.
8. Military “green technologies” are only so they can keep killing
There has been a recent emphasis on reducing military fuel consumption and investment in new “green” military technology. However, we need to be critical of their motivations.
USA Today reported that since the Vietnam War, there has been a 175% increase in the demand for fuel per service member and that the DoD spends about $15 billion a year on fuel. "Because of our thirst for liquid fuel, we're not as light and agile as we once were, putting both our Marines and our expeditionary capabilities at risk," General James Amos, a Marine Corps commandant, said when he launched a new US military energy strategy in 2011.
Sharon Burke, the first ever Assistant Secretary of Defense for Operational Energy further explained in a 2015 interview,
“Importantly, I want to emphasize that the reason the military was originally interested in oil reduction technologies was because of the performance gains. The military isn’t going to cut fuel use because it looks good on paper: They care about the battlefield.”
“Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency currently has a program for a solar drone. It can stay up for months at a time, it’s utterly silent, and it’s harder to detect because it doesn’t have a heat signature. One of the naval research labs is working on small solar drones that move in swarms.”
“In the Asia-Pacific theater, where much of our future lies, we must move a lot of fuel a very long way. Countries, and even non-countries, are going to have precision weapons, and the ability to hit our supply line. We have to cut that vulnerability in the long term.”
Is this really good for the planet, if their “green” technologies are being used to continue and expand their wars and occupations? So they can destroy human life and the planet directly through war before climate change does?
9. War resources could solve climate change
The Iraq war was responsible for 141 million tonnes of carbon releases in its first four years, according to an Oil Change International report. The paper found that projected US spending on the Iraq war could cover all global investments in renewable energy needed to halt global warming trends in the period to 2030.
In 2015, the US had a declared military and defense budget of 601 billion dollars, which is more than the next seven highest spending countries combined. Imagine if all of the financial, human and scientific resources spent on war and occupation worldwide were instead dedicated to projects which ensured a sustainable future. Peace and sustainability are not impossible, but the priorities of imperialist governments are completely wrong. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, "Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men."
10. There's an opportunity in all of this
We have outlined 9 reasons why war and occupation are a human and environmental catastrophe. There are many, many more. There are also approximately 7.4 billion people who live on this planet, which is 7.4 billion good reasons to save it. There is also only one planet which we currently know of which can support the lives of these 7.4 billion people, which is another great reason not to destroy it! It is increasingly obvious that if we continue down the same path, with the same corporations and the same governments and the same militaries making the same profit drive, anti-human decisions, what's left of our future is bleak.
We are running out of time, but as the Chinese proverb says, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, the second best time is now.”
Our opportunity lies in our ability as poor and working people to understand, and act on, our common interests. No matter where we live on this planet, poor and working people cannot avoid the wild and negative impacts of climate change. We can also not avoid either the direct murderous consequences of war, or the related fallout from the massive amount of resources pumped into killing machines instead of social programs. The opportunity is when we realize that the majority of people in this world share the common interest of bringing and end to war and occupation, and focusing the massive human and technological resources we have to work in cooperation with each other and this incredible planet we live on. They especially don't want us to know about this, because when we act like the majority we are, we can make all of this possible. Peace, planet and people before profit!
Follow Thomas Davies on Twitter: @thomasdavies59
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