US Military: Still the World's Largest Polluter


Photo: DVIDSHUB via Flickr, CC BY

Recent news that the US military was striving -- and investing heavily -- to improve its renewable energy technologies inspired a good deal of commentary and optimism. Here, after all, was an ironclad case where greener tech saved lives, further reports noted. When the military dumps money into a technology, after all, that means that breakthroughs in the private sector could follow suit. The US military, therefore, could be a prime driver of solar power to mass market by scaling up manufacturing infrastructure. But let's not forget that the US military, that most massive influence on industry, is still the world's largest polluter. Period. It's a nice to think that the military's push for renewable power will spill over into the private sector, but it's also important to recognize what an environmentally destructive and debilitating force the military is in the first place. Here's Earth Talk:

According to the nonprofit watchdog group, Project Censored, American forces generate some 750,000 tons of toxic waste annually--more than the five largest U.S. chemical companies combined. Although this pollution occurs globally on U.S. bases in dozens of countries, there are tens of thousands of toxic "hot spots" on some 8,500 military properties right here on America soil.

Meanwhile, the U.S. military manages 25 million acres of land that provides habitat for some 300 threatened or endangered species. The military has harmed endangered animal populations by bomb tests (and been sued for it), reports Project Censored, and military testing of low-frequency underwater sonar technology has been implicated in the stranding deaths of whales worldwide. Despite being linked to such problems, the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) has repeatedly sought exemptions from Congress for compliance with federal laws including the Migratory Bird Treaties Act, the Wildlife Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Air Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.

And all this is to say nothing of the greenhouse gas emissions the military produces, which, though tougher to tally, are huge. The military's efforts to "go green" have been widely documented, since it makes for a captivating sort of 'opposites attract' narrative, and it's undeniably a good thing that the military is reducing its carbon footprint.

But don't forget that there's a truly massive industrial complex built into the core of the military that pollutes on a breathtaking scale -- and that the greenest thing that could be done to the military would be to scale it down.

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Tags: Congress | Global Climate Change | United States