The Pentagon Is Killing Us

The U.S. must downsize its military budget to meet the climate crisis, writes Marcy Winograd. 

Wildfire burning near Mount Shasta, California, on June 28. (Unmanned remote wildfire camera owned by State of California, Wikimedia Commons) 

By Marcy Winograd
Common Dreams

The dog days of summer are upon us — and the record high temperatures killing hundreds in the Pacific Northwest and bringing 118 degree heat to Siberia serve as a harbinger of even hotter, more dangerous days unless we address the elephant in the room.

The Pentagon.

As the largest institutional consumer of oil and, therefore, the largest single U.S. emitter of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG’s), the Pentagon must reduce its carbon footprint of wars and weapons production as well as its boot print — including tens of thousands of troops deployed worldwide at 800 overseas military bases and one under construction on Okinawa.

To avoid the worst of the climate crisis, President Joe Biden, Congress and the public can reject an interventionist foreign policy fueled by the drive for full-spectrum dominance of the air, land, sea and space. Otherwise, we brace ourselves for ever rising sea levels: extreme weather, drought, famine — all of which, according to the World Bank, could result in 143-million climate refugees by 2050.

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Brown University’s Cost of War Project reports the Pentagon’s GHG’s exceed those of many industrialized nations, such as Denmark, Sweden and Portugal, with the “War on Terror” alone producing 1,267 million metric tons of GHG’s, the carbon equivalent of a 12-million pound mountain of coal.

One B-52 Stratofortress, Boeing’s long-range bomber, consumes as much fuel in an hour as the average car driver uses in seven years, according to the National Priorities Project.

U.S. Air Force B-52H Stratofortress aircraft sits on the flight line as another B-52H takes off during training at Minot Air Force Base, N.D., 2013. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Brittany Y. Auld/Released)

Biden’s proposed record-high FY-22 $753-billion military budget includes $12 billion for 85 problem-plagued F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jets designed to carry both conventional and nuclear weapons. With $100 million price tag on each jet, the weapons system is an environmentalist’s nightmare that emits tons of earth-warming polluting compounds, from Carbon Monoxide to Nitrous Oxide to Sulfur Dioxide, chemicals that act as blankets trapping the heat.

Moreover, the F-35 has been plagued by maintenance issues and software glitches, raising additional environmental concerns. “If it crashes, its 10,000 pounds of combustible material would burn in the inferno created by 2, 700 pounds of jet fuel,” according to the organization Safe Skies and Clean Water Wisconsin, which has filed lawsuits charging the federal government with failing to conduct adequate environmental assessments.

Meanwhile, the Senate Armed Services Committee, led by Chair Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) and ranking member Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Ok), claims Biden’s military budget is too skinny and has voted to boost the top line by another $25 billion. This despite the fact that the Pentagon has failed three audits for failing to produce details reports on its assets and liabilities.

The Enemy We Know: Global Warming

Cyclone Idai, Mozambique, aftermath, 15-16 March 2019. (Denis Onyodi, IFRC/DRK/Climate Centre)

Defenders of record high near trillion-dollar military budgets counter that we must protect ourselves from enemies across the world. Ironically, the enemy we know, global warming, poses the most urgent existential threat: the wildfire, the flash flood, the heat wave.

Never mind, they say; solar-powered bases, electric Humvees and nuclear-powered warships will solve the Pentagon’s carbon emissions problem.

Not so.

The environmental impacts from manufacturing new weapons systems, shipping those weapons to other continents, bombing infrastructure in the Middle East and flying thousands of troops to the Asia Pacific comes with an unthinkable climate price tag.

Yes, climate champions must sound the alarm before Congress legislates increased troop deployments to the South China Sea and the Department of Defense expands its Pacific Deterrence Initiative to establish a network of precision-strike missiles surrounding China. To threaten a military confrontation with China would not only put the lives of millions at risk, push us to the brink of nuclear war and release a fury of GHG’s with each missile launched, but also sabotage Climate Envoy John Kerry’s efforts to collaborate with China on the U.S.-China Joint Statement Addressing the Climate Crisis.

One approach to educating Americans about the cost of U.S. militarism would be to support Veterans for Peace in their campaign to mandate the Pentagon monitor the carbon emissions of the military. This requires setting goals for GHG reduction and sharing detailed emission results — from overseas bases, new weapons production, troop deployments — with Congress, the White House and the press.

Ideally, such reporting would be made public before Congress votes and the President signs budgets for the Department of Defense and Department of Energy, the overseer of ramped up radioactive plutonium pit production for new nuclear weapons.

Unfortunately, though not surprisingly, the U.S. has repeatedly insisted on excluding requirements to reduce military carbon emissions from international climate agreements, including the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement.

Now, however, is our chance to choose a different path. If Biden and Congress were to recognize the role Pentagon emissions play in warming the planet, the 197 countries participating in the UN Climate Change Conference, Nov. 1-12 in Glasgow, Scotland, might forge a new climate agreement in which participants agree to also monitor and reduce military GHG’s.

The COP26 Coalition, which includes activists from CODEPINK and, plans to protest in the streets outside the conference and support simultaneous protests in the United States. CODEPINK has developed a “Disarm for our Planet and Peace” web page to organize solidarity actions in the United States and abroad and demand the COP26 participants agree to reduce military greenhouse gas emissions.

Activists will demand climate justice for marginalized communities, and what better way to address the disproportionate climate impact of militarism on indigenous populations and communities of color located near U.S. military bases or fleeing climate catastrophe than for conference countries to pledge to reduce their militaries’ earth warming emissions.

Biden can begin with an executive order requiring the Pentagon make public its efforts to reduce earth warming emissions, meet specific goals and lighten our heavy carbon footprint in Europe, the Middle East, Africa and the Asia Pacific. Congress can begin by passing legislation to mandate the military report and reduce its emissions by closing bases and eliminating unnecessary weapons systems.

Ultimately, the U.S. must downsize its military budget to meet the climate crisis.

Marcy Winograd of Progressive Democrats of America served as a 2020 DNC Delegate for Bernie Sanders and co-founded the Progressive Caucus of the California Democratic Party. Coordinator of CODEPINKCONGRESS, Marcy spearheads Capitol Hill calling parties to mobilize co-sponsors and votes for peace and foreign policy legislation.

This article is from  Common Dreams.

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

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13 comments for “The Pentagon Is Killing Us

  1. Marie-France Germain
    August 8, 2021 at 15:26

    I have been making the same point in comments for a while now, but having no power in the USA at all as a mere speck of humanity “out there” beyond the shining city called the US, no one really listens. Instead you get ‘become a vegan!’ Help the planet. I could eat grass every day and nothing else, but it won’t help the climate any more than all the recycling I and many others do. Big business as it stands now, and of course all our militaries and the very rich will wipe that out within a day, easily. And then on top of that, the pestilence known as J. Bezos, desires to save the planet by polluting space. Can’t wait!

    Meanwhile, my very human rights are being abrogated every minute as is everyone’s presently alive. We all have the human right to live without the daily fear that a mistake or an order by some whack job to drop a nuclear bomb starting a major war that will annihilate most of the living planet. This is my daily fear now with the United States going all halfcocked threatening so many countries since Biden and his troop of war lobbyists came in. He seems to be as bad or worse than the orange maladjusted beast you had the last four years. At least the orange one had so many dunces (evil ones but dunces none the same) that his plotting was always undone by his bragging even though some of his disastrous plans had seriously bad outcomes that could have accidently started another world war. It’s the accidents that are the scariest.

  2. Richard Romano
    August 7, 2021 at 12:54

    All of the long comments are true but merely state the obvious. The USA and its allies are destroying the beautiful earth. We have known this for decades and it’s criminal leaders continue their march to destruction.

  3. Wilbrod Madzura
    August 7, 2021 at 02:40

    Absolute psychosis, this FSD mania, embraced unwittingly by the mass populace; unaware that the danger affects THEM,
    (and everybody) not just THOSE OTHERS, the disvalued, the Unpeople; that somehow we will beat the odds and become undisputed Master of the universe; thus live happily ever after. When did “our interests” become incommensurable with the interests of the rest of humanity’s 6 billion folks at the very least? I always remind myself that when the lions devour all their prey, they must certainly face a ghastly demise. To wit, when we are done devouring those we deem expendable and undeserving, our time of reckoning will be upon us- and sooner than we imagine!

  4. Aaron
    August 6, 2021 at 20:56

    I wish the military would do more to extinguish the fires in the US and Canada, surely they have training to do stuff like that and at least help with logistics and such.

  5. Amy H
    August 6, 2021 at 20:44

    Great report. I agree the military should be downsized and could be by 90% and still be the largest on earth. Yet, Biden is never going to downsize the military. He does not care about climate change. All of this should be obvious from his history and his current actions. I’m not sure if the writer thinks that he would care if he knew or if she is hoping that distracted US citizens will try to push him to pretend to care, but I don’t see either of these as possibilities.

  6. Peter D. Capen
    August 6, 2021 at 19:16

    While I agree it is high time to cut the bloated military budget, which has proved better at spending taxpayer dollars than making this country any safer from would-be foes, at the same time it is also time to reverse the tax cuts for the rich, close tax loopholes that mostly benefit corporations and wealthy individuals, and begin taxing the huge proceeds from hedge funds sales. Without a redirecting of the unnecessary and hugely wasteful military expenditures and reinstituting a progressive income tax, there is every likelihood vital social programs in this country continue to suffer from adequate funding, and the nation and public will bare the burden of the current shortsightedness of our elected leaders from both political parties. Moreover, continuing with “business as usual” will all but preclude any realistic government policies to combat global warming, which already seriously threatens societies and their populations around the world with devastating consequences. What is increasingly at stake is not only the future of this nation and its democracy, but arguably the ultimate fate of the human species itself. If the military budget is not cut and America does not return to a truly “progressive” system of taxation, the steady decline of this nation will only pick up speed.

  7. bardamu
    August 6, 2021 at 17:45

    The Pentagon has to cease most all of its activities as well.

    The US military destroys more than any single organization that does not include it, even if you do not count the people killed but just burning of resources and destruction of habitat.

    Part of the reason this is not responded to at all is that the degree of malfeasance makes the matter a very nearly existential problem for the organization as such.

    The basic Carl Schmidt-Lex Luthor sort of game plan, burning energy to destroy people and things to take over the world, does not invite moderation.

  8. Jim other
    August 6, 2021 at 16:15

    Thanks for stating the obvious that no one wants to state. The rampant militarism this country supports continues to warm the planet without achieving anything but murder.

    • Wilbrod Madzura
      August 7, 2021 at 02:17

      In addition to the millions of lives lost, compromised.

  9. Lois Gagnon
    August 6, 2021 at 16:00

    I’m all for reducing the military. It should be shrunk by at least 75%. But if you’re hanging your hopes on Biden and Congress doing the right thing, I have a crumbling bridge to sell you. They don’t represent the people of this country. They represent their financial donors who have gotten fabulously wealthy off the war machine and it’s spoils. We need these miscreants to be put on trial for crimes against humanity and life itself.

    • gcw919
      August 7, 2021 at 19:52

      Well, a 75% reduction to the military budget would be a good start, but I think we should strive for 90% , with the goal of a strictly “defensive” budget, not one designed to maintain the empire. If one really thinks about it, who is going to attack us? Russia? China (Cold War enemy 2.0)? And just what would be their motivation, apart from utter destruction all around?
      The bloated “defense” budget is nothing more that corporate welfare, and one of history’s great con games. Unfortunately, it comes at the expense of people and the planet.

  10. Carolyn L Zaremba
    August 6, 2021 at 15:57

    The writer is correct about downsizing the military, but she is dreaming if she believes that anyone can plead with the Biden administration to change anything. American imperialism is a bipartisan game. Along with that game come power struggles, weapons manufacturers, regime change and endless wars. You will not end this unbroken cycle until capitalism is overthrown. Begging someone like Biden, whose entire political career has been one of subservience to the banks and the military is a waste of time. Godzilla is not going to turn into Little Mary Sunshine.

  11. Realist
    August 6, 2021 at 14:32

    The US military is currently engaged in the biggest project of mass insanity the human race has ever seen. Not only is it poisoning the environment in dozens of different ways (contaminating foreign lands with deadly depleted Uranium to mention just one) in addition to merely dumping millions of tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere daily, but it is prodigiously wasting the essentials for modern life that do not morally belong exclusively to it just because it possesses the most weaponry on Earth and can bully whomever it likes. The third world must despise America for squandering resources that so many others desperately need but cannot have because the generals demand it all in their pursuit of “full spectrum dominance,” i.e., “unipolar” rule over the entire planet.

    You know who else will despise this American-sponsored insanity? All future generations including our own children and grandchildren. The question as to why the people of Earth “cannot have nice things” and why the kids have to play in a backyard or park contaminated with chemical toxins, deadly radionuclides or artificially engineered pathogens will be easily answered by the admission that America and its god-playing military squandered the patrimony (probably need a new synonym during the “Woke” era to avoid censure) of the planet pursuing its mad power games throughout the 20th and 21st centuries. The resources will be gone but the poisons and slag will be left. It’s almost amusing to contemplate the distant future as the world turns long after our species goes to extinction. Most likely the geologic stratum that contains all records of our overachieving and profligate ways will be the one just absolutely laced with the most toxic substances ever to exist on this world, kind of like the identifying layer of Iridium left around the entire globe by the asteroid that destroyed the dinosaurs and extinguished nearly all other life. This time life may have to try a comeback from but a few radiation-resistant bacteria, perhaps Deinococcus radiodurans, as even the cockroaches and tardigrades will be stressed to their limits after the world’s militaries paint themselves into the corner of global thermonuclear war.

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