How do you clear a room of climate activists? Start talking about war. It’s not just environmentalists that leave. It’s pretty much everyone. Mission accomplished by the Bush administration, which sent the military and their families to war and the rest of the country to an amusement park.
The military-civilian divide has been called an “epidemic of disconnection.” But the biosphere doesn’t see uniforms, and the environmental devastation caused by bombs, burn pits and depleted uranium cannot be contained to a combat zone. We haven’t counted the massive carbon footprint of America’s endless wars because military emissions abroad have a blanket exemption from both national reporting requirements and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. There will be no exemptions in the coming climate collapse. We’ve all got skin in the war game now.
The cost of America’s post-9/11 wars is approaching $6 trillion, and the price tag will continue to climb right along with sea levels, temperatures, atmospheric CO2, and methane, a potent greenhouse gas. We can look forward to an escalation in global food insecurity, climate refugees, and the release of long-dormant, potentially lethal bacteria and viruses. Research published in the journal Pediatrics in May 2018 revealed that “children are estimated to bear 88 [percent] of the burden of disease related to climate change.” Nevertheless, public health agencies don’t discuss what war costs our climate when they discuss what climate change will cost our children.
Religious communities are mobilizing on behalf of the healing and protection of the planet. But with few exceptions, such as Martin Luther King’s Poor People’s Campaign resurrected by a trio of ministers, the topic of America’s literal war on the world is still off the table.Although Pope Francis knows creation is God’s cathedral, he spent only a handful of words on the ecology of war in the beautifully rendered “Laudato Si: On Care For Our Common Home.” And the big environmental organizations seem to have agreed that the U.S. military is the entity we won’t talk about when we talk about the biggest contributors to climate change.
The Pentagon uses more petroleum per day than the aggregate consumption of 175 countries (out of 210 in the world)and generates more than 70 percent of total United States greenhouse gas emissions, based on rankings in the CIA World Factbook. “The U.S. Air Force burns through 2.4 billion gallons of jet fuel a year, all of it derived from oil,” reported an article in Scientific American. Since the start of the post-9/11 wars, U.S. military fuel consumption has averaged about 144 million barrels annually. That figure doesn’t include fuel used by coalition forces, military contractors, or the massive amount of fossil fuels burned in weapons manufacturing.
According to Steve Kretzmann, director of Oil Change International, “The Iraq war was responsible for at least 141 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MMTCO2e) from March 2003 through December 2007.” That’s more CO2e than 60 percent of all countries, and those figures are only from the first four years. We downsized the war in December 2011, but still haven’t left, so the U.S. invasion and 15 years of occupation likely has generated upward of 400 million metric tons of CO2e to date. The money misspent on that war—a war for oil, let’s not forget—could have purchased the planetary conversion to renewable energy. Just sit with that for a moment. Then stand up and get back to work, please.
We’ve got wind farms to build and pipelines to stop. We’ve got solar panels to install and water to protect. We need torchbearers from every tribe and nation to walk the green path and light the Eighth Fire. But to do so while continuing to feed the fossil-fueled military beast chewing up nearly 60 percent of the national budget is energy inefficient and environmentally self-defeating. We cannot cure this man-made cancer on the climate without addressing underlying causes. In order to achieve the massive systemic and cultural transformations required for mitigating climate change and advancing climate justice, we’re going to have to deal with the socially sanctioned, institutionalized violence perpetrated by U.S. foreign policy that is pouring fuel on the fire of global warming.
The Department of Defense (DoD) has the largest carbon footprint of any enterprise on the planet. The DoD is the single greatest manufacturer and disseminator of tools and toxins like Agent Orange and nuclear waste that are destructive to ecosystems. Nearly 70 percent of U.S. environmental disasters the EPA classifies as Superfund sites have been caused by the Pentagon, which is a primary polluter of U.S. waterways. There should be no surprise, then, that at least 126 military bases have contaminated water, causing cancer and birth defects in service members and their families. (So much for supporting the troops.)
We have to replace the flawed patriotism clinging to the idea that we can’t win without war (all evidence to the contrary) with a bipartisan paradigm devoted to liberty and justice and freedom for all so creating an intelligent, muscular peace becomes a national priority. If we do not, we will never become the America we have said that we are.
In the end, what we haven’t included in the cost of war may end up costing the most.
We cannot continue the moral, spiritual, fiscal or environmental policy of benign neglect that underwrites the decimation of land, air and water around the world. That, my green friends, is the single most unsustainable policy on this nation’s books.
I know a lot of folks have decided not to speak out about war in order to avoid being labeled a traitor or accused of being anti-military. If we learn nothing else from the Iraq war—and it seems we have not—we learn that silence is a luxury we cannot afford when lives are on the line.The hands of the Doomsday Clock are two minutes from midnight. Life itself is on the line. It is time to find your voice.
We have to defrock the sacred cow grazing at the Pentagon, because climate may be the worst casualty of all. My whole existence was a casualty of the Iraq war, and too many of my friends have gotten a Gold Star. I don’t use the word “casualty” lightly. When I tell you the pain of losing everything you love because of war is a pain you do not want, I beg you to believe me. We have to keep working to “keep it in the ground,” but if we don’t get serious about stopping the U.S. war machine, we could lose the biggest battle of our lives.
Stacy Bannerman is the founder of Women’s EcoPeace and the author of “Homefront 911: How Families of Veterans Are Wounded by Our Wars.” She has testified before Congress three times, singlehandedly spearheaded the passage of two bills and was a charter board member of Military Families Speak Out . Her website is www.stacybannerman.com