Revolution #199, April 18, 2010

A Dirty Little Secret of Capitalism: The U.S. Military Is One of the World’s Largest Polluters

The U.S. military is not only the main enforcer of the system that is plundering the earth’s environment and its people—it is also the single largest institutional consumer of oil in the world. And the U.S. military and its global operations are a major source of carbon dioxide emissions contributing to global climate change.

Estimates are that as of 2004, the U.S. military consumed 144 million barrels of oil a year—or 395,000 barrels per day. Fifty percent of the Pentagon’s energy consumption is accounted for by jet fuel—one of the single most carbon polluting fuels in existence. Many of its vehicles consume so much fuel their consumption is measured in gallons burned per minute instead of miles per hour. The B1-B Lancer bomber, for example, burns 59 gallons a minute. The Abrams tank meanwhile goes ½ mile on a gallon of fuel. The U.S. soldier is the most gas guzzling, carbon polluting, environment destroying combatant in the history of warfare. A report from Oil Change International found that the carbon emissions produced by the military from the war in Iraq alone “equals the emissions from putting 25 million more cars on the road in the U.S. this year… If the war was ranked as a country in terms of emissions, it would emit more carbon dioxide each year than 139 of the world’s nations do annually.”

But now the military has been announcing how they are “going green”. And the reality is that the defense department is developing and using some renewable power. The twist is what this renewable power is used for. One sharp example—the U.S. Navy base torture center in Guantánamo is powered by a wind/diesel plant. So while prisoners are locked away indefinitely without charge and tortured, the military carrying out the torture is using “green technology.”

The military motivation for “going green” is to cut dependency on “foreign oil” and to prepare for the danger of dwindling oil reserves in the future. At the same time, because biofuels haven’t proved practical for powering its war fighting machines, the military is moving to rely more on synfuels—that is, synthetic fuels made from coal, oil shale and biomass. These are dirty fuels, producing more carbon than regular oil and gas. Claiming to “go green” (to defend U.S. interests), the U.S. military is a major source of climate change while warring on the planet—in part fueled by the drive to dominate and exploit the world’s fossil fuel energy reserves.

In addition to carbon emissions, the U.S. military is also one of the world’s major sources of other kinds of pollution and toxic waste. U.S. military bases, in the U.S. and especially worldwide, have spilled, dumped and left a toxic mess of petroleum products, solvents, chemical defoliants and heavy metals contaminating the soil, groundwater and waterways. In the U.S. as of 2004, 10% of “superfund” sites (the most polluted sites needing clean-up) were created by the military.

U.S. wars, invasions, and weapons testing sites have wreaked much worse havoc. They have caused untold devastation to people and the environment over decades. This includes the results from America dropping two atomic bombing on Japan—bombs which poisoned the people and countryside with radiation, in addition to killing over 100,000 people. During its war against Vietnam, they sprayed “agent orange” on the trees in the countryside to remove “the cover” of the guerrilla soldiers—this resulted in 400,000 [!] deaths and disabilities, and 500,000 children born with birth defects. More recently, U.S. use of the Puerto Rican island of Vieques for target practice contaminated the soils and seas, and its illegal use of depleted uranium weapons in both wars against Iraq caused cancer rates and birth defects to skyrocket there.

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