This article is based on a talk given at the August 24 “Eco-Socialism Conference: For the Planet to Live, Capitalism must End,” hosted and organized by the Albuquerque branch of the PSL.
Anyone concerned with climate change and the ecological crisis we face has to be concerned with the United States military for several reasons.
The most obvious reason is that the U.S. military’s carbon footprint is gigantic. If the U.S. military was a country, it would be a bigger greenhouse gas emitter than 140 other countries, and there’s only 195 countries in the world!
This should not come as a surprise. It takes a lot of oil and gas to keep the U.S. empire’s 800 military bases running, not to mention their navy and air fleets which are scattered across the globe. In 2017 alone, the military purchased 260,000 barrels of oil per day. Just one of its jets uses about 3,334 gallons per hour, about what the average car driver uses in seven years.
On top of that, U.S. military bases—both foreign and domestic–are among the most polluted places in the world. Jet and rocket fuel frequently contaminate sources of drinking water and aquifers, like right here in Albuquerque, NM. All three military bases in New Mexico have contaminated the water in nearby areas, and all three have refused to correct the problems. The U.S. Navy recently dumped 94,000 gallons of hazardous fuel into a Virginia waterway that empties straight into the Atlantic Ocean.
Retired congressperson John Dingell recently stated that, “almost every military base in the U.S. is contaminated.” In fact, the military has 39,000 contaminated sites on over 19 million acres of land in the United States alone! Nine hundred of those sites are designated by the Environmental Protection Agency as Superfund sites. And we haven’t even begun talking about the bases outside of the United States.
The Department of Defense produces more hazardous waste than the five largest U.S. chemical companies combined.
The United States has conducted more nuclear tests than all other countries in the world combined. These tests have made parts of the planet almost uninhabitable, like parts of the Marshall Islands.
What is worse than the U.S. empires far flung bases are their actual wars. From the so-called Indian Wars to the genocidal war against Iraq, the U.S. military leaves a path of destruction that endures for generations, from the annihilation of native ecosystems and agricultural systems to the physical liquidation of millions of human beings.
It is abundantly clear that the U.S. military is the most destructive force, militarily and environmentally, in the world.
While the U.S. military is the single largest organizational consumer of hydrocarbons in the world, recently it has been running around boasting about “greening” some of its operations. No one should be fooled by this. We know that the answer isn’t a green capitalist war machine. The answer is no capitalist war machine!
To understand why a green war machine is not part of a response to climate change, we have to understand what the ruling class mobilizes the military for in the first place.
The U.S. Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps are deployed for one reason and one reason alone: to threaten, bully and punish any state or movement that exercises too much independence and dares to stand in the way of corporate profits. The military is the fist that allows the global system of capitalism to keep going. In other words, the military’s function is to preserve the system of accumulation and exploitation that is destroying the planet. Greening it won’t change it’s function.
If the effects of climate change are not reversed, it will lead to greater instability, which will bring a militarized response from the ruling elites. They are building walls around the United States to keep the global masses out. They are arming themselves to the teeth to preserve the United States at the center of global power in scenarios of global climate crisis. The military budget annually is now almost $1 trillion. A new scramble to dominate and exploit the resources opened up by receding ice and permafrost is now underway.
This preparation for conflict is giving rise to a new arms race. The U.S. is withdrawing from all Cold War era weapons treaties. They are upgrading their nuclear stockpile and weaponizing space. This is very serious.
The potentially devastating impacts from climate change mean we have to radically reorganize society so that working people are in charge, not the rich, and we must do this quickly! There is no way to fathom a path toward climate justice, sustainability and people’s power without taking on the global security threat of the U.S. military.