The US military is causing environmental collapse across the planet –

The US military emits more carbon than 140 countries combined, fueling climate change and environmental degradation. Below, we look at five ways the Pentagon is destroying the environment.

Photo: Reuters

By Sam Carliner / Left Voice

The summer of 2021 has been an alarming season for climate news. Massive fires raged from California to Europe; the countries of the South have been hit by deadly droughts and historic winters; and on August 9, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report confirming what many people already knew: the climate crisis is already here. Over the past three years, leading climate scientists have argued that the average global temperature increase must stay below 1.5 degrees Celsius to avoid the worst effects of the climate crisis. The recent IPCC report suggests that humanity has passed the point where it is possible to reach this limit.

left voice has regularly covered how the climate crisis is the result of a capitalist system unable to respond to such a universal and rapidly evolving threat to humanity. As the capitalists do their part to fuel global disaster, the Pentagon, one of the bastions of the imperialist state, deserves notable mention for its role in the climate crisis. The US military – with its 800 foreign bases planted around the world to enforce the will of the US empire – is a bigger polluter than 100 countries combined.

Here are five of the ways the Pentagon is fueling climate change.

1: Keep imperialism going

As stated above, the US military consists of nearly 800 bases in foreign countries and territories. Keeping all of these bases functioning and connected also requires an extensive transportation network, including ships and aircraft, and infrastructure such as power and water.

An article in Newsweek found that in 2017 “the US military purchased approximately 269,230 barrels of oil per day and emitted over 25,000 kilotons of carbon dioxide by burning these fuels”. Brown University Research Costs of war The project shows that from 2001 to 2017, US “overseas contingency operations” in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and Syria produced 400 million tons of CO2 emissions. Other discoveries by Costs of war show that the war in Afghanistan resulted in illegal logging that led to the destruction of wildlife habitats, and that the war in Iraq increased rates of cancer and birth defects.

Even outside of war zones, the US military threatens human life and prosperity on a daily basis by injecting CO2 into the atmosphere. Even the most mundane US military fuel consumption causes unjustifiable damage, like keeping lights on at a base in Italy or fueling vehicles to train US troops in Australia. Every penny spent on such actions is a penny spent on the fossil fuels that are slowly making the world uninhabitable, all in an effort to maintain American capital’s control over the world’s resources for profit.

2: Support oil

One of the biggest contributors to the climate crisis is the burning of fossil fuels. As noted above, the US military consumes huge amounts of fossil fuels. However, its role in the use of fossil fuels goes far beyond its own consumption – an entire global economy has been built around the cheap extraction of oil. The fossil fuel capitalists were able to build such an economy by using the US military to violently protect their interests. This violent protection of fossil fuel interests has been a major driver of the US military’s wars in the Middle East.

We’ll never know the Pentagon’s exact contribution to global warming, but we can calculate the extreme peak in oil production as a result of US capital grabbing in Iraq with the help of the US military. In 2016, Iraq produced more than 4 million barrels of oil per day, more than double what it produced in 2003, the year of the US invasion.

The intertwining of US imperialist hegemony in the early 21st century and oil production has created an uphill battle for the transition to renewable energy. Even with the clear planetary benefits of wind and solar technology, the most influential sectors of capital will continue to support fossil fuel extraction. Between finance capital, which invests billions of dollars in oil and expects returns, and the fossil fuel industry, which has driven down the costs of extractive infrastructure, the most influential sectors of capital will continue to s oppose an economy built around green energy.

This continued investment in oil will mean continued investment in resource wars. Already, some figures in the US State Department and the Pentagon have discussed the need for the US to compete with Russia in the Arctic over newly emerging trade routes and underground oil reserves.

3: Harming Indigenous communities

Indigenous peoples around the world have been at the forefront of environmental protection. Many indigenous communities fought bravely to protect their lands from the American empire and its talent for destroying entire ecosystems.

In fact, the US military is grounded in a history of warfare against Indigenous peoples and their lands. This was the legacy of the “Native American Wars, in which the US military was used to colonize North America and enforce the genocide of Indigenous peoples and the theft of lands and resources.

The modern US military continues to pose a threat to indigenous communities and their lands by maintaining foreign bases. As U.S. military violence against Indigenous peoples has continued, resistance led by Indigenous communities has continued. For example, in Okinawa, the presence of the US military was met with significant opposition. Currently, Okinawan natives are trying to stop construction of a new base that would destroy the burial grounds of war victims and pose a threat to 262 different endangered species.

The US military presence in the Asia-Pacific region is likely to become a bigger concern for the Biden administration as it places greater emphasis on competition with China. This makes it all the more essential that an international environmental movement stand in solidarity with indigenous communities on key islands of US operations in the Pacific, such as Okinawa, Hawaii and Guam.

4: Produce hazardous waste

The destructive presence of US military bases is not limited to foreign soil. Across the United States, military bases have produced toxic chemicals that are having a serious impact on the health of communities near those bases. One of the worst forms of military pollution in the United States is synthetic foam known as (AFFF).

Developed by the US Navy in the 1960s, this chemical has been shown to cause all kinds of sometimes fatal immune, hormonal, and reproductive health issues, as well as various types of cancer. Due to the Army’s regular use of the chemical in training exercises at hundreds of bases across the United States, the foam has seeped into water and soil across the country, poisoning communities while the military dodges responsibility.

In response to several class action lawsuits, the Pentagon began disposing of its AFFF supply by incinerating it, creating an entirely new form of large-scale poisoning.

5: Deprioritize useful projects

In the United States, we are constantly told that there is no money to implement comprehensive measures to combat the climate crisis. Public transport, green infrastructure, solar energy, etc. are considered “too expensive”.

The truth is that the money for such projects exists, but it goes to the Pentagon. In 2015, the military received 54% of the federal budget, and each new budget further inflates Pentagon funding. The Biden administration has already called for a defense budget for 2022 that would increase military spending by 1.6% from this year.

The $715 billion Biden is asking for military spending in this budget could instead go to green infrastructure projects. For example, if an annual budget of $715 billion were spent replacing the US electric grid with renewables, it would take just over eight years to completely replace the entire US electric grid.

There are also many smaller projects that could be done with a year’s worth of the money requested for the 2022 military budget. The $715 billion is more than enough to cover the cost of the boats needed to clean up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a garbage island twice the size of Texas that currently floats between California and Hawaii.

Defund the Pentagon

Only socialism can adequately address the climate crisis that is already destroying entire ecosystems and costing lives. Capitalism kills via the climate crisis when people in Texas freeze to death because their power grid fails in the winter and when people in the Pacific Northwest die from unprecedented heat waves. Capitalism kills by depriving the most exploited countries of food and water and by subjecting oppressed communities in imperialist countries to environmental racism. The global environmental movement must take a revolutionary stance against capitalism, and it must be led by poor, working-class communities around the world who are already facing the worst consequences of capitalism-fueled climate change.

Part of the struggle against capitalism is the struggle against imperialism. Leftists in imperialist countries, especially the United States, have an obligation to fight imperialism for many reasons. The role of the US military in climate change is just one reason the US left must demand the defunding of the Pentagon.

Defunding the Pentagon means shutting down the 800 bases and the network of ships and planes that require an incessant flow of fuel. This means not polluting working communities with hazardous waste. It also means making it clear to everyone that the climate crisis is not the fault of individuals, but of the capitalist class and its institutions of violence. The working class and leaders of climate change movements must unite around the demand to invest in green energy and environmental conservation while withdrawing from war and all other forms of imperialist aggression.

Sam Carliner

Sam Carliner is a socialist with a background in journalism. He writes primarily for Left Voice on US imperialism. He also tweets about imperialism as @saminthecan.

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