A New Frontier for Peace and the Environment

A New Frontier for Peace and the Environment

On April 8, twenty-six  activists (including myself) from across the nation, organized under the banner of the National Campaign for Nonviolent Resistance, emerged from Washington DC's metro onto Pentagon property and called for an end to both the human and environmental destruction caused by the United States military.

 

Within minutes, Pentagon police arrested all twenty-five of us while we were reading a letter addressed to Defense Secretary, Robert S. Gates. This letter requested a meeting in order to discuss the direct connection between US militarism and the global environmental crisis. Other activists positioned themselves inside  the Pentagon's “free-speech zone” and supported us through song.

 

The letter articulated three overall demands: first, end the illegal wars and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan and the illegal bombings in Pakistan and elsewhere; second, re-allocate money away from the military and towards easing human suffering in the US and abroad; and third, take immediate steps to halt the Pentagon's destruction of the environment.

 

The last demand points to both the environmental devastation that is a direct consequence of wars and occupations as well as the daily operations required to maintain a global military system, which is equipped and ready to deploy forces (human and technological) anywhere on the globe at a moment’s notice.

 

When all modes of operation are taken together, the Pentagon becomes “the number one purveyor of death and destruction of both people and environment,” according to Sarah Sommers (29), a Cleveland Ohio resident and co-coordinator for the InterReligious Task Force on Central America. Sommers was one of the twenty-five activists arrested by Pentagon police.

 

The activists advanced the connection between war and environmental destruction in their letter by referencing some of the more notorious US foreign policy actions, such as the “ecocide” unleashed on Vietnam during Washington's two-decade long invasion of the country and surrounding region.

 

According to a report by the Washington Post in November 2006, “American forces sprayed about 12 million gallons of Agent Orange over the jungle canopies and jade-green highlands of Vietnam.” The report explains that Vietnamese still confront the effects of US environmental warfare in many ways, including contaminated lands and fisheries and exponentially higher rates of birth defects for those living in “hot spots” (Anthony Faiola, “In Vietnam, Old Foes Take Aim at War's Toxic Legacy,” November 13, 2006). The US government continues to maintain that it does not owe past and present victims even an apology.

 

The letter also referenced the use of depleted uranium during the Bush II administration's invasion and occupation of Iraq. The International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health released a study in July 2010 that attributed the dramatic spike in birth defects, infant mortality and cancer in Fallujah, Iraq, to the weaponry used by US forces during their assault on the city in 2004. Patrick Cockburn from the Independent (UK) writes that the health catastrophe in Fallujah is equivalent to, if not exceeds, the one in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 after these cities were on the receiving end of US nuclear warfare (“Toxic legacy of US assault on Fallujah 'worse than Hiroshima',” July 24, 2010).

 

Environmentalists often point to private industries, particularly oil and gas, logging and agricultural companies, as the primary culprits of the global climate crisis.  Focusing solely on private industry, however, ignores the Pentagon's critical role in exacerbating the crisis.

 

Like Sommers, Brian Stefon (47) from Cleveland Ohio joined the protest to “call out the abuses of our militarism both in toll it takes on human lives and on the physical environment.” He emphasized that “if we're really serious about saving Mother Earth, we have to go to the belly of the beast,” referring to the Pentagon, which he claims is the biggest burner of fossil fuels in the world.

 

The same point was made in the letter that we carried to the Pentagon: “Because the United States has hundreds of military bases here and abroad, the Pentagon is exacerbating a growing environmental crisis on a global scale,” and as a result “the Department of War must be the focus if we are to seriously address the planet’s ongoing climate chaos.”

 

The Pentagon's connection to the climate crisis is woefully under-studied and -reported. But for those who have analyzed the connection, they have arrived at only alarming conclusions.

 

On June 14, 2010 Joseph Nevins published a piece on Common Dreams titled “Greenwashing the Pentagon” that called the U.S. military “the world's single biggest consumer of fossil fuels, and the single entity most responsible for destabilizing the Earth's climate.” He writes further that “the Pentagon devours about 330,000 barrels of oil per day (a barrel has 42 gallons), more than the vast majority of the world’s countries.”

 

In “The Green Zone: The Environmental Costs of Militarism” published by AK Press (2009), Barry Sanders offers a detailed study of the Pentagon's role in the global environmental crisis. As “the largest single consumer of petroleum in the world,” the Pentagon uses “enough oil in one year to run all of the transit systems in the United States for the next fourteen to twenty-two years,” Sanders writes.

 

When the Pentagon enters into “its most ferocious and stepped-up mode—namely, the military at war” (a virtual constant for the US during the post-WWI era)—its destructive capacity escalates dramatically both in terms of murder and environmental devastation.

 

Focusing solely on gasoline consumption, the DoD nearly doubled its purchases in 2004 from the previous year in order to service two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. According to Sanders, that year the Defense Energy Support Center (DESC), the agency charged with procuring fuel products for the military, spent 8.5 billion dollars for 144 million barrels of petroleum, which amounted to nearly 2.8 billion gallons of gasoline.

 

Sanders writes that this averaged out to approximately 395,00 barrels per day, amounting to “almost as much as the daily energy consumption of Greece.” The difference, of course, is that Greece's energy consumption goes towards serving the needs of its population, whereas energy consumption by the military serviced Washington's criminal aggression against Afghanistan and Iraq—leading to the murder of well over 1 million people.

 

In short, a constructive response to the overall global environmental crisis, including the climate crisis, must entail a dramatic reduction in the Pentagon's devastation of our planet. Doing so necessitates confronting not only war-time operations, but also the daily activities required to maintain a global military presence.

 

These facts, however, remain off the agenda for many environmental activists. For those of us who participated in the Pentagon action, forging closer alliances with environmentalists and others who have yet to make the connection is a top priority, particularly at a time when the US peace movement is desperate for renewed momentum.

 

Sarah Sommers called bridging this gap as a “new frontier for the peace movement.” Because the environment and militarism are “interlinked,” Sommers and others asserted that a divide between peace and environmental activism indicates not only a serious conceptual flaw, but also a strategic shortcoming with dire consequences.

 

Echoing this sentiment, 23-year old Michelle Cardenos from New Jersey said, “We can't rely on separate groups with their own agendas.” Instead, we have to “come together now when we need it the most because everything is at stake."