Barry Sanders was methodically recycling and trying to live a "green" life in other ways when he had a "flash" of insight, as he put it in an interview on Oct. 12 -- that the U.S. military is massively polluting the earth.
Sanders looked into the subject and found almost nothing written on it. His research taught him that it's nearly impossible to obtain information on the Pentagon's contamination of the planet and release of climate-changing gases. That information is top secret. In mainstream America, no one challenges how the military spends its money or demands its accountability -- or even questions the amount of money the Pentagon requests. The military always gets what it wants.
Sanders found that cumulatively, whatever individuals do to save the planet is almost nothing considering the scope of the U.S. military's destruction of the earth.
Sanders did what he could to investigate the military's despoiling of the environment and published his hard-won findings in The Green Zone: The Environmental Costs of Militarism (Oakland, AK Press, 2009), in which he analyzed "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."
War and environmental devastation are inextricable, he pointed out. "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," he said.
One way the military pollutes is through its use of oil, 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. The Pentagon "uses enough oil in one year to run all of the transit systems in the United States for fourteen to twenty-two years," Sanders wrote. The Pentagon's routine pollution of the planet is a worse environmental catastrophe than the BP oil spill, yet no one talks about it, he said.
"War is so deeply embedded in the democratic system ... that we may need to grab it where it lives, and dies, and that's at the level of money," Sanders wrote. Therefore, he argued, eliminating the Pentagon's funding is a key method of halting the military's extermination of life on the planet with our tax dollars.
Sanders sees ending war as a solution to the environmental devastation the military causes.
"We must begin to see war as an outmoded method of solving political problems," he wrote. "...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."
What is needed, he said, is a unified, global movement of not just environmentalists and peace activists but also of the unemployed, the severely poor and all other oppressed groups. Sanders compared the connections of these oppressions to a spider web: if you pull on one strand, you find it's connected to all the others.
On Wednesday, Oct. 20, Dr. Sanders, author of 12 books, writer in residence at the Pacific Northwest College of Art and retired professor of English and the history of ideas at Pitzer College of The Claremont Colleges, will visit Bloomington to talk about "The Ecological Costs of Militarism." Free and open to the public, the talk will take place at 7 p.m. at the Unitarian Universalist Church, 2120 N Fee Lane. A book signing and reception will follow the talk.
Linda Greene can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.