Tuesday, May 1, 2007

The Military and Greenhouse Gases

I always wondered about the military and environmental problems. Once in a while you here about the environmental messes left when bases are closed but even on such basic issues as fuel economy I have heard absolutely nothing. Not even this article mentions that. Why can't there be more fuel efficient tanks, military vehicles etc. Is fuel economy even a factor in the design of military vehicles. Somehow I doubt it.
Is there any attempt to cut down fuel consumption in the military? The ordinary citizen is continually bombarded with messages that they ought to be more conservationist but what of the military? Nothing is ever said about them.

What’s Possible in the Military Sector?
Greater than 100% Reduction in Greenhouse Gases
by Don Fitz
April 30, 2007

The military is the only sector of the economy where emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG) can be reduced by greater than 100%. This is because militarism is the only type of activity whose primary purpose is destruction.

When a road is bombed in Serbia, energy is used to rebuild it. Energy usage translates to the emission of GHG, primarily carbon dioxide (CO2). When a home is leveled in Afghanistan, reconstruction requires energy. Every hospital brought down and every person maimed in Iraq means CO2 emissions during the treatment of patients and construction of new treatment facilities.

Military production is unique. If it were halted, GHG emissions would be reduced by (a) GHG from fixing up what’s in the path of military attacks, in addition to (b) GHG produced during its regular activities of building bases, using weapons and transporting troops and equipment.

Regular economic activity of the military is not exactly small. According to the February 2007 Energy Bulletin, the Pentagon is the single largest consumer of oil in the world. Only 35 countries consume more oil. Yet, the official figure of 320,000 barrels of oil per day used only include vehicle transport and facility maintenance.

That figure does not include energy for manufacture of vehicles, energy for building and dismantling military facilities, energy for construction of roads, and energy consumed while rebuilding whatever the military blows up. Nor does it factor in energy required by the military’s partners, NASA and the nuclear industry. Additionally, whenever war or construction razes trees, it eliminates their ability to remove CO2 from the atmosphere.

Though the official figure for the military budget is $623 billion, the War Resistors League calculates total military-related spending at $1,118 billion by including NASA, Department of Energy nukes, vet benefits and interest on past military debts. Another $110 billion should be tacked on for extra spending on the war in Iraq.

The most recent figure for the gross domestic product is $13,246.6 billion. Putting these together leads to an estimate that just under a tenth of the US economy is military-related spending:

[$1,188B $110B] / $13,246.6B = 9.80%

Military spending is like a cancer which has metastasized throughout the body politic, with every congressional district demanding its place at the trough. According to Steve Martinot, “The military is now connected and conjoined to roughly 50% of all economic activity in the US.”

This domination of industrial activity by the military is often referred to as the “permanent war economy.” There is an even more insidious meaning to the phrase. That is the need of the military to have ever shorter periods of time between wars. The only way to have a true test of a weapon is to use it against people.

Millennia ago, it could have been decades or centuries before new weapons were tried out in war. Now, computerized weapons come out as fast as new generations of computers and the only way to make sure they function as designed is to use them in battle conditions.

With the military responsible for a large and increasing contribution to greenhouse gases, shouldn’t it be front and center for efforts to reduce global warming? It is not.

Lester Brown’s Plan B was so popular when it came out in 2003 that he wrote Plan B 2.0 in 2006. It is an outstanding combination of how peak oil, global warming and environmental catastrophes require building a new economy. But when he writes that “Each year the world’s taxpayers provide an estimated $700 billion of subsidies for environmentally destructive activities,” military actions are absent from the activities he describes. His section on “A Wartime Mobilization” only mentions war as an analogy to illustrate the fervor which needs to be devoted to saving the planet.

Two contrasting prescriptions for global warming which came out in early 2007 are a report by the American Solar Energy Society and George Monbiot’s Heat. The ASES document is a conservative, mainstream approach to reducing CO2 emissions in the US by energy efficiency and renewable energy. Monbiot’s book proposes radical changes in areas such as home heating, appliances, transportation and retail stores that he says would reduce CO2 in the UK by 90%.

The word “military” does not appear in the index of either work. The ASES report has no discussion of how much global warming can be fought by addressing the military sector and Monbiot only mentions it to acknowledge that it is a hole in his analysis.

The one area of the economy where a greater than 100% reduction in greenhouse gases is possible is the area least likely to be discussed in connection with global warming. Something is very wrong when people devote enormous attention to technologies like liquefied hydrogen, plug-in electric cars and tidal energy which could hypothetically help reduce CO2 at some point in the future while they ignore what we know is having a huge effect right now.

Katrina dramatized the military-oil-climate change connection. Excessive oil use in the overdeveloped countries fueled the warming of waters in the Gulf of Mexico, which intensified Katrina. When the hurricane hit New Orleans, the local National Guard was unavailable to help. Why? Because it was off in Iraq making sure that US corporations would control the world oil supply, with the consequence of further global warming, more violent hurricanes, and the flooding of more coastal cities.

The more Katrinas there are, the closer we get to the “tipping point” of global warming becoming self-perpetuating and increasing even if all industrial activity were to stop. Ecosystems would begin to release more CO2 than they absorb, which would further increase world temperature and cause plants to release more CO2. As glacier ice melts, deeper water absorbs more sunlight and similarly increases warming on its own.

We cannot afford to ignore the contributions of an entire economic sector to global warming simply because so much corporate profit depends on it. Silence implies that military-caused GHG deserve no special attention over and above the technological fixes that are being proposed for other areas of the economy.

The world does not need a global warming strategy which features tanks charged by wind power or Israelis using solar-powered bulldozers for leveling Palestinian homes. Given the oil used by the military, its interconnections with other economic sectors, and its increasing permanence, no proposal for reducing GHG should be taken seriously if it does not include a massive restructuring of war industry into a peacetime economy.

Don Fitz is editor of Synthesis/Regeneration: A Magazine of Green Social Thought, which is sent to members of The Greens/Green Party USA. Sources for this article can be obtained from him at fitzdon@aol.com

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