U.S. Military is a World Leader in Pollution and Wasteful Use of Fossil Fuels

Sandra Folzer, Weavers Way Environment Committee

Who is the world’s greatest polluter? I asked my partner, who responded, “Cattle?” “Airlines?” “Agriculture?” They’re all good answers, but the correct one is the U.S. military.

We do not hear about the Armed Forces’ record as a polluter because they make getting data difficult. As part of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, the United States insisted on an exemption for reporting military emissions. But according to the global business news website Quartz, if our military were a country, its fuel usage alone would make it the 47th largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world.

As the world’s biggest polluter, our armed forces create 750,000 tons of toxic waste every year in the form of depleted uranium, oil, jet fuels, pesticides, defoliants, lead and other chemicals, according to MintPress News. MPN reports that almost 900 of the 1,200 Superfund sites in this country are abandoned military sites. 

Our military uses almost 21 billion liters of fuel every year, more than the carbon emissions of Denmark, according to grist.org. According to Newsweek, in 2017 the military emitted more than 25,000 kilotons of carbon dioxide by burning fuels. 

In 2014, Former United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon was quoted as saying, “The environment has long been a silent casualty of war and armed conflict. From the contamination of land and the destruction of forest to the plunder of natural resources and the collapse of management systems, the environmental consequences of war are often widespread and devastating.”

Damage from the military is alarming. Last year, the city of Tucson, AZ sued 3M, claiming the Air Force contractor had been dumping industrial solvent trichloroethylene (TCE) into the water table for 29 years. Its actions caused over 1,350 residents to suffer from cancer and other illnesses.

In May 2017, U.S. Naval Air Station Oceana in Norfolk, Va. spilled 84,000 gallons of jet fuel into the waterway. Nine military personnel were disciplined as a result.

From 1953 to 1987, Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in North Carolina contaminated the groundwater with harmful chemicals at concentrations far above those permitted by safety standards. As a result, an undetermined number of servicemen contracted cancer and other ailments.

In Colfax, LA, the military burns explosives and munitions waste several times a day with no environmental emissions control and has been doing so for decades. The military had previously burned explosives in Minden, LA, but the residents complained, so the burning was moved to Colfax. 

The military tries to decrease its carbon footprint by increasing renewable electric generators on the bases. Long before climate change became a popular topic, they were considering the effects of climate change. The U.S. Navy Task Force Climate Change initiative was working to prepare for global shifts in sea levels and warming ocean temperatures, but was quietly shut down last year.

We need to reduce the Pentagon’s budget in order to reduce their pollution and  flagrant use of fossil fuels. When politicians talk of increasing the military budget to “keep America safe,” they are actually making our country less safe. And the military’s pollution and waste of resources affects climate change.