Do We Need a War on U.S. Military Carbon Emissions?
Authors Sara Flounders and Barry Sanders say President Obama remains silent at the UN about one of the greatest contributors to global pollution and greenhouse gas emissions
SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: The world leaders are meeting today to discuss climate change at the United Nations. And tomorrow afternoon, President Obama is expected to chair a session of the UN Security Council on ISIS.
I can tell you what will not be on the agenda at these two meetings, and that is the ecological consequences of the U.S. militarism worldwide. In fact, carbon emissions of the military is not even factored into the figures when we consider the top emitting countries, where the U.S. heads the chart.
The rate at which climate change is occurring because of greenhouse gas emissions is a national security threat and a catalyst for global political conflict, says a recent report published by CNA. CNA is a federally funded research and development center serving the Department of the Navy and other defense agencies.
Now joining us to discuss this is Barry Sanders and Sara Flounders.
Barry Sanders is the author of The Green Zone: The Environmental Costs of Militarism. He now cochairs, with Anne-Marie Oliver, an MA program in critical theory and creative research at the Pacific Northwest College of Art in Portland, Oregon.
Sara Flounders is the codirector of the International Action Center, an activist organization opposing U.S. militarism, racism, and war. Flounders is the editor and coauthor of over ten books focused on U.S. wars, including (2012) War Without Victory: The Pentagon’s Achilles Heel.
Thank you both for joining us.
Let me ask both of you. You both have written and researched extensively on the issue of military pollutants of the contribution of military-industrial complex to the greenhouse gas emissions. Starting with you, Barry, how did you gather your information and measure the impacts?
PROF. BARRY SANDERS, HALLIE FORD SCHOOL OF GRADUATE STUDIES, PNCA: Well the answer to the first question is how did I gather it was slowly. It took a very long time. I started in–the book was published in 2009. I started doing work around 2003, trying to do research about the subject, waking up one day and realizing that we’re asked to recycle, ourselves, little paper cups and all. And then I wondered, as a plane was flying overhead, about the military. So I came to understand this idea that I was told as a kid, it’s a military secret, I can’t tell you, and all of this is military secrets.
But as I was doing this research, I came across a website I had never seen before, and it was called WikiLeaks [incompr.] I just stumbled on it. In this site called WikiLeaks, there were numbers and there were leaked memos. So it was a slow, arduous process. You know, the military does keep it under wraps. There are so many different kinds of vehicles one doesn’t finally know what to use. So there’s lots of guessing. But there are some documents that were leaked as well. And there was one, in fact, at a certain point where the military was so proud of the amount of fuel that it was consuming that it made this declaration.
So I had all of that and came to a number of about 146 billion pounds of CO2 pumped into the air at one time. But notice that the Energy Information Administration, which is listed by the federal government as the official energy statistics for the United States government, says the following: estimating even roughly the quantity of oil consumed for overseas military operations is an uncertain procedures. But how I describe it is–and I don’t want monopolize this, but the way I describe it is it’s the worst BP oil spill every day. Think about consuming a million barrels a day and pouring that into the universe.
But before we get to Sara, let me just say that I’m not sure anymore. This is now 2014. The book’s been out for five years. I’m not even sure anymore that’s the right question to ask. I’m not sure the question about numbers is a number to be asking. And I can expand on it a little bit more when we get a chance.
PERIES: Sarah, and how did you go about gathering your data, and how did you measure?
SARA FLOUNDERS, AUTHOR, WAR WITHOUT VICTORY: [snip] important to look at it from the point of view that the U.S. today, domestic consumption alone can’t be measured. The U.S. is the center of a huge global empire–1,000 U.S. bases in 130 countries. And what you might see at one airshow in Baltimore, picture what those same jet aircraft do flying again and again over Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, where there is a constant show of U.S. power, of U.S. military power, in ways that are meant to intimidate the population or sow massive destruction.
So it’s a question of both measuring carbon emissions–that’s part of what the UN is doing. But they took out from it, at U.S. insistence, back at the time of the Kyoto accords, all measurements, calculations that had to do with the U.S. military. And over the years, when you think about the way in which U.S. wars have expanded and grown, endless wars, that becomes more and more important. It’s not only what’s happening in the U.S. in 6,000 military facilities in the U.S., but those thousand bases around the world, the aircraft carriers, the overflights, the NATO operations, all of that is excluded from any calculation. And so when we say the U.S. is the largest user of petroleum in the world, and also using some of the most toxic materials, it’s just scratching the surface.
Now, Barry Sanders has gathered a great deal of the research and calculations on that. But, I think, from the point of view of anyone who’s in any way followed U.S. wars in the last decade, we have seen the ability to wreak havoc in the environment of whole countries, such as Iraq or Afghanistan, the surrounding areas. But we also know the huge firepower of hundreds and hundreds of tanks, of Apache attack helicopters, of the jet aircraft, of the refueling and all that’s used in the carriers that we fuel. The calculations you could go on and on in making, and you understand why the military would consider this top-secret and why ever since the Kyoto accords it has been kept out of, excluded from any discussion on an accounting, on carbon accounting.
And that is what is up to activists from the grassroots, from below, demanding in accounting and demanding these figures be put back in and not be made secret and excluded from any discussion. There’s a real role for antiwar activists, environmental activists, for the grassroots movement to demand an accounting of the Pentagon military machine. And it’s vital. It’s essential for the history of–past history, and also for the future of the planet.
SANDERS: Let’s say that the military didn’t hide the numbers. Let’s say we knew exactly how much CO2 we put into the atmosphere. What difference would it make, does one think? The military [is] utterly off-limits. And even asking the question about carbon emissions, the fuel that military planes burn, is so much more corrosive than what we use in commercial airplanes or what we use in a passenger car that asking the question is to play into the military’s hands, I think. And the great G. K. Chesterton once said that hatters didn’t go mad from [incompr.] acid; they went mad from measuring everybody’s head. And I think we play a certain kind of fool’s game when we fall–and I believe this now–fall into these numbers. Even if we knew what those numbers were, we still–the military is off-limits for criticism. The military is much more–in this country particularly, I think–much more sacrosanct than even religion.
And even asking about pollution [incompr.] doesn’t, for me, focus on the most devastating part of the military in Iraq and in the Middle East, probably in Afghanistan, and that is depleted uranium. We have made a good deal of the Middle East, as far as I’m concerned, radioactive. This is now public knowledge and public information. We have destroyed, in many senses, the future tense in Iraq in our wars, so that we have deformed fetuses. People cannot conceive anymore. This is not just pollution. It is devastation in the most serious, dramatic, and quite awful way.
PERIES: So this issue is typically not covered in the media. Military-industrial complex is really underreported. You see scatterings of it here and there, an invitee will talk about it if a report is released, or Bloomberg or Washington Post has had some odd articles here or there, but it is largely missing from public discourse. Why?
SANDERS: Yesterday The New York Times had an article following the march, which was about global emissions rising 39 percent last year. Two thousand three was a record year. I read the article three times. Not one single mention of the military. Yesterday on MSNBC, the same article was there. There wasn’t a single mention of the military. On the UN agenda for its meeting, will the military be on the agenda? It will not.
FLOUNDERS: Well, it’s not covered in the major corporate media at all. It’s intentionally excluded. And that’s not surprising, because of course the major media is completely linked in with the biggest oil corporations, and their talking heads are retired generals and on and on.
But the CNA, or the Center for Naval Analysis, their report is they absolutely accept global warming. But the report is from the direction of how to take advantage–they take–in every way, they assume climate change is a reality–how to take advantage of it to ensure that U.S. military is the predominant power in the world. And they see global changes in climate as creating terror threats. I mean, that very perspective, the very fact that they’re studying it not from the point of view of how–they have the equipment to provide emergency relief–floods, famines, droughts, sea levels rising, enormous floods that wipe away the very future for millions of people, they’re not studying what can be done in the face of that, and even what equipment to bring to bear. It’s studies on how to use that to ensure basing rights and to secure their ports and their equipment. So it’s really a completely distorted, hair-raising report from every point of view, because it shows a direction that here is the largest concentration of scientific knowledge, and it is used from a direction of how to ensure U.S. military dominance, U.S. hegemony in the world today, and not how to impact the lives of any part of the world’s people in a helpful direction. And it’s also how to take advantage of it for the greatest profit.
PERIES: Is there a great deal of attention to this issue among the environmental movement, and the public is not picking up on it? What’s really going on here?
FLOUNDERS: There’s not a great deal of attention in the environment, and there needs to be. And it’s up to, really, a movement from below making those changes and making it real, connecting the dots, you could say, because unless we’re talking about and focusing–a laserlike focusing on who is the greatest polluter, who is the real destroyer of the environment, and insisting that this also be part of the UN meetings–you have a meeting taking place in Paris next year, the meeting at the UN in New York, where this is not part of the discussion at all.
PERIES: And, Barry, do you have people from the environmental movement calling you to talk about this?
SANDERS: No, but I don’t–not that I expect that to happen, but I have people from antiwar movement calling me about it. And the purpose of the book, the goal of the book, the hope of the book, and the hope of my research was to put together an antiwar movement, which I want to now say is no war movement, with the environmental movement and to suggest that they’re not separate. Even when you ask the question, you make that separation. They’re not separate. You know, this is bothersome to me because if I use the anthropologist Mary Douglas’s definition of pollution, it’s a thing, something that is out of place and is occupying a different place. The greatest pollution I can see in the military is the way that it has polluted our minds. All of us are now–the military acts with obvious disregard of the environment. That’s fairly clear. And most of us do the same thing. So the greatest pollution is, for me, that we addressed, all of us, most of us citizens, overwhelming majority, addressed the environment as if we were in the military. We have become militarized. And this CNA report, while it’s picked up by the media, generals have been having meetings for ten years about the national security issue of disappearance of food and the polar ice cap melting, and drought in Sub-Saharan Africa, and see it as a national security issue. That’s why we’re going to need more military troops, and that will bring us even more pollution. So I think that when we once talked about military-industrial complex–we will not run out of food. We can just destroy the environment, and we’ll have farmed fish and we will have pigs raised in apartment houses in the Midwest and all of that. We will have GMO seeds. But all of this is of a piece. All of this has really–when we talk about pollution now, we have to change our language. We have to talk about the way the military has polluted our own imagination. If there’s going to be change, is not going to be in a CNA report. It’s going to be an actual change of every person who marched and five times that amount last Sunday.
PERIES: This is a topic that various issues, various crises of the world are converging at.
SANDERS: Can I end with one thing?
PERIES: Yes, you may.
SANDERS: You know, it isn’t that we have to think about the antiwar movement. War is obsolete. We’re destroying the planet. We call it global warming. It’s an utter catastrophe. We have to change the way we think, we have to change our language, we have to step out of this kind of discussion and into something really quite dramatically radical.
FLOUNDERS: At the very time that the UN is meeting on climate change, what is the proposal being put forth to the UN Security Council? And it’s for another war, for an expansion, a continuation of the war on Iraq and into Syria. And that alone should be a wake-up call to the people of the world.
PERIES: Thank you both for joining us.
SANDERS: Thank you.
PERIES: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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