The US Military: Protecting Our Freedom While Destroying Our Planet
Editor’s Note: This week SD Free Press is re-posting past articles relevant to our War and Peace theme. This article was originally published back in June, 2014
By John Lawrence
The impact of the US military on climate change is enormous due to its excessive consumption of fuel oil. The US must spread its influence across the oil producing parts of the world in order to protect its supply of oil.
The US military consumes huge amounts of oil so that it may preserve strategic access to oil in order to get the oil it needs to preserve strategic access to oil and so on in a never ending loop. Insatiable militarism is the single greatest institutional contributor to the growing natural disasters intensified by global climate change.
The US military is the largest single consumer of energy in the world. If it were a country, the Department of Defense (DoD) would rank 34th in the world in average daily oil use, coming in just behind Iraq and just ahead of Sweden.
Within the DoD, the US Air Force is the largest oil consumer. Not only does the military consume a lot of oil, they pay outrageous prices for it. The Pentagon pays an average of $400 to put a gallon of fuel into a combat vehicle or aircraft in Afghanistan. The DoD uses 4.6 billion US gallons of fuelannually, an average of 12.6 million gallons of fuel per day.
Electricity usage by the military, which accounts for even more greenhouse gas emissions, is also gargantuan. In FY 2006, the DoD used almost 30,000 gigawatt hours of electricity at a cost of almost $2.2 billion. The DoD’s electricity use would supply enough electricity to power more than 2.6 million average American homes.
In fiscal year 2012, the DoD consumed about a billion gigawatt hours of site delivered energy at a cost of 20.4 billion dollars. While consuming that amount of energy, DoD emitted 70 million metric tons of CO2. And yet, total DoD energy use and costs are even higher simply because the energy use and costs arising from the contractors to support military operations both domestically and abroad are not included in DoD’s data.
Military fuel is more polluting because of the fuel type used for aviation. CO2 emissions from jet fuel per gallon are triple those from diesel and oil. Also, aircraft exhaust has unique polluting effects that contribute in an even greater way to global warming. Among other things jet exhaust includes nitrous oxide, sulfur dioxide, soot and water vapor all of which exacerbate the warming effect of the CO2 exhaust emissions. And the noise pollution of continuous stop and go landings at Miramar Marine Corps Air Station in San Diego is horrific. Residents of nearby Tierra Santa can hardly step outside their door without being bombarded by it. The same holds true for other military air fields across the country.
Even though the DoD is the largest institutional user of petroleum products and energy, the Pentagon has a blanket exemption in all international climate agreements. We are hiding our heads in the sand not to include the military when we talk about climate change. Yet the Kyoto treaty had a loophole big enough to drive a tank through, according to the report A Climate of War – the War in Iraq and Global Warming. After the United States demanded and won exemptions and concessions on the effects of the military on climate change, George W. Bush pulled the United States out of the Kyoto Protocol as one of the first acts of his presidency, alleging it would straitjacket the US economy with too costly greenhouse gas emissions controls.
According to The Military Assault on Global Climate:
… [M]ilitarism is the most oil-exhaustive activity on the planet, growing more so with faster, bigger, more fuel-guzzling planes, tanks and naval vessels employed in more intensive air and ground wars. At the outset of the Iraq war in March 2003, the Army estimated it would need more than 40 million gallons of gasoline for three weeks of combat, exceeding the total quantity used by all Allied forces in the four years of World War 1. Among the Army’s armamentarium were 2,000 staunch M-1 Abrams tanks fired up for the war and burning 250 gallons of fuel per hour.
The US Air Force (USAF) is the single largest consumer of jet fuel in the world. Fathom, if you can, the astronomical fuel usage of USAF fighter planes: the F-4 Phantom Fighter burns more than 1,600 gallons of jet fuel per hour and peaks at 14,400 gallons per hour at supersonic speeds. The B-52 Stratocruiser, with eight jet engines, guzzles 500 gallons per minute; ten minutes of flight uses as much fuel as the average driver does in one year of driving! A quarter of the world’s jet fuel feeds the USAF fleet of flying killing machines; in 2006, they consumed as much fuel as US planes did during the Second World War (1941-1945) – an astounding 2.6 billion gallons.
Coincident with these environmental tragedies which intensify global warming is the ongoing tradeoff in the US federal budget between militarized defense and genuine human and environmental security. The United States contributes more than 30 percent of global warming gases to the atmosphere, generated by five percent of the world’s population. At the same time funding for education, energy, environment, social services, housing and new job creation, taken together, is less than the military budget. Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich has called the military budget a taxpayer-supported jobs program and argues for reprioritizing federal spending on jobs in green energy, education and infrastructure – the real national security.
There is a dangerous feedback loop between war and global warming. Not only is climate change likely to increase conflict, particularly over access to natural resources, but war, in turn, is already accelerating global warming while simultaneously draining our economy of money needed for clean energy.
The increased propensity for war and conflict brought about by global warming is being exploited by the military-industrial complex which is planning on how to profit from it. Defense contractors are looking at climate change as a growth and profit opportunity due to the potential conflicts produced by food and water shortages. They are salivating over the potential profits to be made leading to increased stock market performance and, therefore, higher CEO compensation.
Defense contractors are setting their sights on a narrow minded militarist approach. Indeed, the very companies most responsible for climate change are set to make a killing from its intensification. Just the opposite of the militaristic response to climate change is what is needed, one leading to a meaningful transformation in social relations, cooperation and diplomacy. What the planet needs is increased cooperation among all peoples since we all share the same planet, and we will all suffer the same fate from the effects of global warming. The interests of all earth-citizens coincide for once, but that’s not the way military planners see it, and there is little precedent for cooperation on a world scale.
“I think climate change is a real opportunity for the aerospace and defense industry,” said Lord Drayson, then British Minister of State for Strategic Defence Acquisition Reform, in 2009.
One of the world’s largest defense contractors, Raytheon, agrees. In a briefing to the Carbon Disclosure Project last year, the corporation said that “expanded business opportunities will arise” as a result of “security concerns and their possible consequences,” due to the “effects of climate change” both at home and abroad in the form of “storms, droughts, and floods.”
Global warming is creating “business opportunities” for defense contractors. What kind of business opportunities? Raytheon expects to see “demand for its military products and services as security concerns may arise as results of droughts, floods, and storm events …” Extreme weather conditions could have “destabilizing effects” and that on an international level, “climate change may cause humanitarian disasters, contribute to political violence, and undermine weak governments”.
And this, indeed, is the problem: the military-industrial complex views the problems and conflicts created by climate change as opportunities to profit instead of as opportunities to work together with other nations to mitigate and adapt to its effects; instead they are determined to justify innovative new ways to save the profits of the few who run the planet by using conventional military techniques.
Of course if the money used for war were used to build renewable energy generating plants, none of the disaster scenarios might ever happen. But that would not increase military-industrial complex profits. Total US spending on the military could cover all of the global investments in renewable power generation needed between now and 2030 in order to decrease current global warming trends and obviate the necessity for new defense products.
On Memorial Day we celebrated all the old WW II veterans that served their country so proudly and saved the world from fascism. There were Medal of Honor winners and others in snappy colorful uniforms with chestsful of medals strutting around. But where were the Peace Corps veterans? Where were the Peace Corps Medal of Honor winners. Where were their snappy uniforms with chestsful of medals? Sad to say we celebrate war, but we don’t celebrate peace. If we cut the military budget by 50% and increased the Peace Corps budget concomitantly, we might just be able to avert global warming and create a world invested in peace rather than war.
The FY 2014 budget for the Peace Corps is $379 million. The military budget for FY 2014 is $820 billion, over 2000 times the Peace Corps budget. Why not increase the Peace Corps budget by a couple of orders of magnitude and decrease the military budget commensurably? We should be celebrating the people that are helping to build water and sewage systems in underdeveloped countries, the people that are helping villagers to build solar and wind power plants, the people that are building hospitals and schools. Nobody is thanking them for their service.
VISTA is the domestic Peace Corps equivalent created by President Lyndon Johnson. Its purpose is to fight poverty in low-income communities by engaging Americans from all walks of life in a year of full-time service. During the Clinton Administration, VISTA was brought under the newly created AmeriCorps program, a division of the Corporation for National and Community Service, and was renamed “AmeriCorps*VISTA.” These programs put people to work helping other people in underserved communities focusing on enriching educational programs and vocational training for the nation’s underprivileged classes.
For their service participants in these programs receive a number of benefits including a stipend, settling in and transportation costs, child care benefits, and a basic health care plan. Upon completion of their one-year term, VISTA members have the option of receiving a cash award or the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award. It gives otherwise unemployed people a chance to do something positive and constructive as well as helping others to better their lives. Isn’t it better to put people to work doing something constructive rather than letting them languish in unemployment where they are likely to become gang members, engage in criminal activities and end up in jail after which they never will be able to get a job for the rest of their life?
Here again the FY 2014 budget for the domestic equivalent of the Peace Corps is a paltry sum – $335.4 million for AmeriCorps State and National Grants, $30.0 million for AmeriCorps NCCC (National Civilian Community Corps) and $92.4 million for AmeriCorps VISTA. America puts its money where its heart is – not in programs that provide and create employment for poor people but on war programs for rich defense contractors and other denizens of the military-industrial complex – those with the riches to hire lobbyists and make campaign donations. And the national jobs program for the poor is to join the Army and become cannon fodder.
As President Obama said recently, “When the only tool you have is a hammer, the solution to every problem looks like a nail.” That’s precisely the problem with the US militaristic approach to the world’s problems: the US acts like every problem has a military solution and that’s where we put our money. As Iraq falls apart, the folly of the war there that George W Bush and Dick Cheney lied us into becomes apparent. Those two managed to spend 4 trillion dollars of taxpayers’ money, get hundreds of thousands of people killed and maimed, both Americans and Iraqis, and the outcome is a complete destabilization of Iraq and arguably the whole middle east. At the same time their oil fetish and military activities dumped millions of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. That’s quite a legacy: destroying the planet’s ecosystem while killing, maiming and wasting taxpayer money!
This insatiable militarism is the single greatest institutional contributor to the growing natural disasters intensified by global climate change.