Use as many low-energy lightbulbs as you like, turn down the thermostat and drive a hybrid car, but whatever you do as an individual -- indeed, the sum of what we all do for the environment --does almost nothing to alleviate the U.S. military's destruction of the earth.
In The Green Zone: The Environmental Costs of Militarism, Barry Sanders writes that like other capitalist institutions, "each military branch ... must grow larger and fatter each year; expansion is the life blood of imperialism." Further, Sanders asserts, "The military can brook limits of no kind whatsoever. ... The Pentagon conducts its business behind very thick and very closed doors. It writes its own rules and either follows them or violates them, depending on the situation."
Almost all "military numbers remain off of official reports, secret and out of sight." Sanders obtained the information he cites in the book by gleaning what he could from "arcane reports" and obscure Web sites belonging to the Department of Defense and Government Accounting Office, plus books and articles.
Sanders describes, in horrifying detail, how the military is "the largest single source of pollution in this country and in the world: the United States military -- in particular the military in its most ferocious and stepped-up mode -- namely, the military at war." He goes on to say, "When we declare war on a foreign nation, we now also declare war on the Earth, on the soil and plants and animals, the water and wind and people in the most far-reaching and deeply infecting ways."
One way the military pollutes is through its staggering use of fuel, from which it creates huge amounts of greenhouse gases. For example, the military's use of armored vehicles, planes and luxury aircraft alone consumes close to 2 million gallons of oil every day. Sanders dramatizes that point by noting that the Pentagon "uses enough oil in one year to run all of the transit systems in the United States for 14 to 22 years." Taxpayers pay an average of $300 a gallon for this fuel.
"Sanders describes, in horrifying detail, how the military is 'the largest single source of pollution in this country and in the world.'"
One Abrams tank gets 0.2 miles to the gallon. One aircraft carrier consumes 100,000 gallons a day when stationed on a coast. Half of that fuel goes to the aircraft on the ship.
The B-52 Stratocruiser, a bomber, uses 500 gallons per minute, whereas the average driver consumes about 600 gallons a year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
The construction of military bases uses a vast amount of fuel, and operating them requires powerful air conditioners that spew out massive amounts of CO2 and other pollutants.
The military pollution for one year "equals that which some 14.6 million cars produce driving for one year," according to Sanders.
All the reports and proposals on lessening global warming, however, ignore the military’s contribution and are therefore fatally flawed.
Then there are the bombs. They have contaminated much of Iraq with depleted uranium (DU). In the first two days of "Shock and Awe" the military bombed Iraq with 320 tons of DU, which has a half-life of 4.7 billion years. Just one of many types of bombs, a single GBU produces 1.5 metric tons of aerosolized DU particles that can cause genetic mutations and death for all those years.
Not to mention the pollution of U.S. residents with perchlorate, a toxic material used in bomb making, and the wartime use of white phosphorus (banned by several international treaties), cluster bombs, and a new and more "effective" version of napalm.
Afghanistan receives a whole chapter of its own in the book. Sanders point outs that "over half of the total munitions dropped by the United states over the last three years fell on the Afghanistan countryside in 2006." According to a Human Rights Watch report, only two of Afganistan's 29 provinces are thought to be free of landmines.
"In the first two days of 'Shock and Awe' the military bombed Iraq with 320 tons of depleted Uranium, which has a half-life of 4.7 billion years.""War is so deeply embedded in the democratic system -- in fact, in many ways it is the system -- that we may need to grab it where it lives, and dies, and that's at the level of money," Sanders writes. And, he argues passionately, eliminating its funding is necessary to halt the military's omnicide, killing all things living, using our tax dollars.
As of Feb. 15, Tom Hayden reported for Peace and Justice Resource Center, the Obama administration is requesting $159 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan, plus $33 billion for the recent troop escalation.
The Congressional Budget Office says that the overall cost of the wars now reaches $1.08 trillion, including $748 billion for Iraq, $340 billion for Afghanistan and $29 billion for "enhanced security."
Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., has written HR 3699, a bill that cuts $33 billion in funding for the troop escalation in Afghanistan. Rep. Dennis Kucinich has put forward a "privileged resolution" to force a congressional vote on the wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan, as the War Powers Act mandates.
Sanders has a solution to the environmental devastation the military causes: banning war. "In the 21st century," he says, "given the precarious state of this planet, we must begin to see war as an outmoded method of solving political problems. ... The anti-war movement must become a No-War movement working alongside those who believe that, if we act now and with determination and without equivocation, it may still be possible to live on this planet for decades and even centuries from today."
"Sanders has a solution to the environmental devastation the military causes: banning war."
This goal, Sanders says, can be achieved if "our efforts ... expand exponentially, in a communitarian movement around the globe the likes of which no one has ever witnessed, one that refuses to make compromises about a basic respect for life."
As Sanders writes, "In the 21st century the military is the most sacrosanct institution in our country." So far, almost no one has dared to criticize its policies and practices, let alone its budget. That silence, Sanders insists, must end.
Sanders asserts that "very few people ... will speak out for the voiceless, defenseless planet." One of those rare people is Sanders himself, who writes, persuasively and eloquently, on the urgent need to stop the military and warmaking if the biosphere is going to survive.
Linda Greene is an activist and writer in Bloomington, IN. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Barry Sanders: The Green Zone: The Environmental Costs of Militarism. Oakland, AK Press, 2009, 183 pp., $16.95