“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities. It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some fifty miles of concrete pavement. We pay for a single fighter with a half-million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people. This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.”
— Dwight Eisenhower, Chance for Peace, 1953
The War Machine
The Department of Defense oversees one of the largest operations on the planet — the U.S military. It is a complex web of worldwide supply chains, transportation, communications, infrastructure projects, energy systems and combat operations that meet many internationally accepted definitions of terrorism. For brevity, evidence for U.S terrorism must only be in summary.
The U.S military operates approximately 800 bases in 80 countries. A recently released Brown University report titled Pentagon Fuel Use, Climate Change, and the Costs of War reveals that the military’s destructive capacity isn’t limited to its predator drones, long-range missiles, battlefield tanks, machine-gun Humvees and platoons of soldiers. Indeed, the military’s final act of catastrophic destruction will be its contribution to runaway anthropogenic climate breakdown.
A Legacy of Waste and Abuse
The Brown University report analyzed public reports from the Department of Defense, the Department of Energy (DOE) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The DOE and EPA audit all public agencies’ energy consumption. The findings show that since 9/11, the military bought an average of 120 million barrels of fossil fuel annually. In 2017, it emitted 59 million metric tons of carbon dioxide.
The military is a massive market for fossil fuel producers. The aforementioned global operations are incredibly energy intensive and emissions-heavy. Operations often take place in extreme temperatures and remote landscapes. It stands to reason that the Pentagon emits more greenhouse gases than many countries.
Factoring the percentage of the U.S. industrial workforce employed specifically in the military-industrial complex and how much is emitted by building, not just using, vehicles, weapons and other machinery, the 59 million metric tons of carbon dioxide actually expands to a carbon footprint of 153 million metric tons of carbon pollution annually.
These metrics may very well be conservative. While the 1997 Kyoto Protocol required the world’s developed countries to account for their emissions, it allowed them to ignore military-related emissions — a loophole pushed by the U.S, which famously did not sign the treaty. The Paris Agreement addresses this issue. However, in all its subservience to state and corporate power, the agreement does not place any mandates on military emissions. The U.S, of course, withdrew from the Paris Agreement and has dampened international efforts to fight climate breakdown.
Furthermore, the report excludes emissions related to reconstruction after the destruction of serviceable infrastructure and other civil systems. War operations also included simply burning oilfields in Iraq; these emissions are excluded from the aforementioned calculations. Not only has the post-9/11 operation rained devastation and death across the Middle East, but it has also proven to be an unmitigated emissions disaster as well.
While the Pentagon has concluded that climate breakdown will cause severe national security issues through wars over resources, droughts, mass migration and other effects, the Department of Defense’s addiction to fossil fuels is simply accelerating this threat.
In the age of corporate rebranding and political posturing under increasing citizen consciousness, there are emerging discussions to tackle the military’s waste and profligate emissions. However, discussions in the U.S have strived to maintain and even increase the military industrial complex’s profit engines and state control of global affairs — characteristic of political discourse in the mainstream, barring a few exceptions.
A recently released plan by Elizabeth Warren’s presidential campaign is an example of such toothless approaches. Titled Our military can help lead the fight in combating climate change, the report explains,
Climate change is already impacting the way the Pentagon operates — its training, equipment, supply chains, construction, maintenance, and deployments. More and more, accomplishing the mission depends on our ability to continue operations in the face of floods, drought, wildfires, and desertification.
Climate change, accelerated by our destructive actions, is already affecting our ability to continue our destructive actions.
In short, climate change is real, it is worsening by the day, and it is undermining our military readiness. And instead of meeting this threat head-on, Washington is ignoring it — and making it worse.
The plan is less about how the military will fight climate change and more about how to keep the military fighting while the world collapses around it. Also, an oft-overlooked fact: you can’t fight climate change by shooting at it.
We have the most capable military in the world.
Indeed, an irrefutable statement. The most capable of war-crimes and causing existential crises on the planet. Agreed.
It cost the Pentagon as much as $400 per gallon to transport the gas needed to keep bases operational at the height of the war in Afghanistan; in Iraq, convoys transporting oil and gas were vulnerable targets for insurgent attacks.
The illegal invasion of Iraq caused the local population there to pick up arms and shoot at our oil transport convoys. Since they don’t wear uniforms, we termed them “insurgents” to make it more palatable to shoot back at them. These insurgents are affecting our ability to continue our unending resource exploitation in the region.
The military is taking steps to become more energy efficient and resilient, reducing energy use, generating renewable energy, and adjusting construction plans for extreme weather. But captured by Big Oil and its money, Washington continues to deny the threat and stand in the way of meaningful action to address it.
This statement is so vacuous and bereft of systemic analysis that its absurdity can only be summarized by an excerpt from Arundhati Roy,
Perhaps the story of the Siachen Glacier, the highest battlefield in the world, is the most appropriate metaphor for the insanity of our times. Thousands of Indian and Pakistani soldiers have been deployed there, enduring chill winds and temperatures that dip to minus 40 degrees Celsius. Of the hundreds who have died there, many have died just from the elements.
The glacier has become a garbage dump now, littered with the detritus of war — thousands of empty artillery shells, empty fuel drums, ice axes, old boots, tents, and every other kind of waste that thousands of warring human beings generate. The garbage remains intact, perfectly preserved at those icy temperatures, a pristine monument to human folly.
While the Indian and Pakistani governments spend billions of dollars on weapons and the logistics of high-altitude warfare, the battlefield has begun to melt. Right now, it has shrunk to about half its size. The melting has less to do with the military standoff than with people far away, on the other side of the world, living the good life. They’re good people who believe in peace, free speech, and in human rights. They live in thriving democracies whose governments sit on the U.N. Security Council and whose economies depend heavily on the export of war and the sale of weapons to countries like India and Pakistan. (And Rwanda, Sudan, Somalia, the Republic of Congo, Iraq, Afghanistan… it’s a long list.)
The glacial melt will cause severe floods on the subcontinent, and eventually severe drought that will affect the lives of millions of people. That will give us even more reasons to fight. We’ll need more weapons. Who knows? That sort of consumer confidence may be just what the world needs to get over the current recession. Then everyone in the thriving democracies will have an even better life — and the glaciers will melt even faster.
Warren’s report continues,
Nibbling around the edges of the problem is no longer enough — the urgency of the moment demands more. That’s why today I am introducing my Defense Climate Resiliency and Readiness Act to harden the U.S. military against the threat posed by climate change, and to leverage its huge energy footprint as part of our climate solution.
It starts with an ambitious goal: consistent with the objectives of the Green New Deal, the Pentagon should achieve net zero carbon emissions for all its non-combat bases and infrastructure by 2030.
Made in the mold of Green Capitalism, Warren’s Green Imperialism plan also ignores the simple calculus of increasing emissions even when the percentage of renewable energy increases, simply because of increases in overall energy usage. “Leverage its huge energy footprint as part of our climate solution” requires no comment.
To improve readiness and resilience to climate-related events, we should also create a dedicated source of funding to adapt our bases in the United States and around the world. Let’s save money by budgeting for climate change on the front end, so that the Pentagon doesn’t have to ask for more only after a base is flooded or equipment damaged when natural disasters strike.
Let’s avoid asking elementary and fundamental questions about military operations and execute wasteful construction projects that cost time, funds, energy and of course, more emissions.
And I’ll invest billions of dollars into a new, ten-year research and development program at the Defense Department focused on microgrids and advanced energy storage. The Pentagon has been responsible for countless technological breakthroughs, working together with colleges and universities, our national labs, local governments, and private companies. Let’s put that effort toward new clean energy solutions that will improve our security by allowing military bases to remain operational when traditional power sources fail, and save taxpayers money through lower overall energy consumption.
This is a reasonable proposition. As I have covered in The Free-Market Fraud: Tech Innovation and Alternatives, the roots of our high-tech economy lies in the state; more specifically, military research. However, technology is a necessary but insufficient solution to climate change. Secondly, it is concerning that Warren doesn’t look to the Pentagon’s research as a conduit to begin altering many facets of our civilian research, infrastructure and transportation.
The report concludes by noting,
We don’t have to choose between a green military and an effective one. My energy and climate resiliency plan will improve our service members’ readiness and safety, all while achieving cost savings for American taxpayers. Our military understands that, and it’s time our elected leaders did as well. Together, we can work with our military to fight climate change — and win.
This conclusion displays a very concerning analysis of climate breakdown and the structural evolution that is required to “fight” it. Green tanks, eco-friendly bombs, electric helicopters and double pane windows on military bases is underestimating the scale, speed and the systemic nature of the crisis. Further, greening operations that are simply self-justified by imperialist doctrines of American militarism is another blind spot in Warren’s interpretation of climate action.
There must be a better way.
Ending Endless Wars
In a recent Foreign Affairs op-ed titled Ending America’s Endless Wars, Bernie Sanders laid out his plan to end U.S and allied forces’ involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq. Further, he stressed the need to oppose Donald Trump’s attempts to start another war, this time with Iran.
As the op-ed states,
We should all understand that a war with Iran would be many times worse than the Iraq war. U.S. military leaders and security experts have repeatedly told us that. If the United States were to attack Iran, Tehran could use its proxies to retaliate against U.S. troops and partners in Iraq, Syria, Israel, and the Persian Gulf area. The result would be the further, unimaginable destabilization of the Middle East, with wars that go on year after year and likely cost trillions of dollars.
The report concludes by noting,
The American people don’t want endless war. Neither do we want a foreign policy that is based on the logic that led to those wars and corroded our democracy: a logic that privileges military tools over diplomatic ones, aggressive unilateralism over multilateral engagement, and acquiescence to our undemocratic partners over the pursuit of core interests alongside democratic allies who truly share our values. We have to view the terrorism threat through the proper scope, rather than allowing it to dominate our view of the world. The time has come to envision a new form of American engagement: one in which the United States leads not in war-making but in bringing people together to find shared solutions to our shared concerns. American power should be measured not by our ability to blow things up, but by our ability to build on our common humanity, harnessing our technology and enormous wealth to create a better life for all people.
The op-ed stresses that “crucial resources and attention” have been diverted from the issue of climate change because of the war machine’s entanglements in the Middle East. By advocating for ending “endless wars,” scaling back military operations and constructing a path towards a diplomatic foreign policy, Bernie Sanders does far more here to fight climate change than any Green Imperialism plan.
Sanders’s recent resolution to end U.S involvement in the Saudi-led war in Yemen passed both the House and Senate. It was vetoed by Donald Trump. Prohibiting Donald Trump from refueling Saudi planes, providing Saudi Arabia with other heavy emissions equipment and intelligence for operations with massive carbon costs has positive implications for many communities — including climate activists.
Activism: The Ultimate Renewable Resource
Climate activists must ensure that climate action and anti-war action are inextricable. The opportunity is ripe to resurrect the anti-war movement by making moral, economic and climate-based arguments against murderous invasions that seek to exercise control of international resources for state power and corporate profit. This further fans the flames of climate breakdown by opening up more oil reserves for capitalization.
From the inception of absurd green military ideas resulting from moral failures, there is a straight line to a terminal point of using dead bodies as renewable biofuel. And yes, there is a prototype for that.
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