US military unveils plan to deal with climate change

US soldiers burn trash in a pit outside a base in Jaghatu, Afghanistan in 2012. Military burning pits have been linked to cancers and other illnesses among veterans.

US soldiers burn trash in a pit outside a base in Jaghatu, Afghanistan in 2012. Military burning pits have been linked to cancers and other illnesses among veterans.
Photo: Lorenzo Tugnoli for the Washington Post (Getty Images)

The US military has a shiny new net zero plan that just might make people forget what a heinous global polluter it is.

This week, the military (the oldest military branch in the country) revealed a plan to supposedly make its operations climate-friendly, including by deploying electric military vehicles and installing micro-grids on its bases that will be powered by renewable energy such as solar panels. The Army will also train its soldiers to resist increasingly common disasters such as droughts, floods and heat waves.

“Climate strategy is important in dealing with climate change and the threats that come with it – both how our forces operate in a climate-altered world, but what the military can do to influence that and to mitigate our greenhouse gases and to reduce the effects of climate change, said Paul Farnan, the Army’s acting assistant secretary for installations, energy, and the environment. Defense News this week.

Of course, the US military is one of the dirtiest entities in the world – its operations consume more resources than more than 140 countries, according to a study 2019. Military activities use huge amounts of energy and water, and there are hundreds of military bases in about 70 countries around the world, according to Policy. Not to mention the direct environmental destruction it performs. War and constant movement displaces humans and wildlife, and hot spots and oil spills made countless people sick, including lots of soldiers. Last year in Hawaii, oil used for military vehicles leak in local drinking water, triggering illnesses among residents and military families. From the 1940s to the early 2000s, the U.S. military tested ammunition on the The Puerto Rican island of Vieques, leaving the tropical environment riddled with toxic waste to this day. Famously, the mid-century atomic bomb tests destroyed the homeland of the people of Bikini Atoll, who remains radioactive and unlivable more than 70 years later.

Electric vehicles and solar arrays can reduce the military’s huge appetite for oil, but net zero on emissions is not net zero on centuries of damage to fragile ecosystems and vulnerable communities now living in environmental conditions disaster. The military’s new climate strategies will make its operations and soldiers more resilient to the crises it helped create, but they do nothing to clean up its toxic legacy.

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