Thursday, July 05, 2007

Freedom to Fry

Is the ‘war on terror’ also a war on Terra? This is the question asked by Barry Sanders, an American academic I met last year in Paros, in his article ‘The Green Zone: the Worst Lie of All’.

Establishing the environmental impact of the US military’s operations in Iraq is no easy matter, and Barry had to do some careful rooting around to research his article. What he found out is pretty hair-raising.

Here are a few facts and figures. It helps to remember that there are human beings beneath them.

  • The Pentagon estimates that in March and April of 2003, US and British forces used between three and four million pounds of armour-piercing shells that contained depleted uranium. “One military official,” writes Sanders, “equated it with the fallout from 250,000 bombs of the size dropped at Nagasaki”.
  • Depleted uranium weapons leave a radioactive dust that contaminates plants, land and people. DU was used indiscriminately near and in heavily populated areas, yet “the (US) military refuses to allocate any money for its cleanup and, unlike the British, refuses to disclose the grid coordinates where it has used depleted uranium.”
  • The UN estimates that four million pounds of residue from spent munitions made with DU has settled over Iraq. The depleted uranium isotope has a half-life of 4.5 billion years.
  • And what about global warming? The Department of Defense is the largest consumer of fuel of any agency of any country in the world. “For just the first three weeks of combat in Iraq, the Army calculated that its branch alone would require more than 40 million gallons of fuel, an amount equivalent to the total fuel used by all Allied Forces combined during the four years of World War II.”
  • Using the DoD figure of 144 million barrels of petroleum product for the fiscal year 2004, “we get 6 billion, 48 million gallons of fuel, or close to 70 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide pollution.” This excludes fuel consumption in Afghanistan and fuel consumed by the US Navy!

There are no serious attempts being made by the US military to evaluate its contribution to global warming, or indeed other environmental problems. Worse still, the Pentagon is pushing Congress to exempt the military from the nation’s environmental laws. As Karen Wayland, legislative director at the National Resources Defense Council says, “The Pentagon’s push for blanket exemptions from federal health and pollution cleanup safeguards makes a mockery of national defense. Using national security to sacrifice our nation’s environmental security will endanger our health, leaving us less safe.”

Whose interests, exactly, is the US military defending? Increasingly, it seems, the nation is serving its creature. And yet there are voices within the military establishment that are beginning to speak about the vicious circle of environmental degradation and conflict. Climate change, by the Pentagon’s own estimation, is a “threat multiplier”, the consequences of which – through resource scarcity – will lead to more wars. American citizens and soldiers alike would avoid, if at all possible, the multiplication of threats. And yet, for the military-industrial complex, the catastrophe of climate change would be a positive: guaranteeing perpetual expenditure. Maybe the 860 permanent US bases in over 100 countries of the world are preparing already for this grim and self-generated future?


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