Thursday, January 20, 2011

Barry Sanders, The Green Zone: The Environmental Costs of Militarism


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- SimilarEarth First! Journal - Thoughts on Military Pollution, by Barry ...Retired professor and prolific author Barry Sanders has spent a long time looking closely at ... I have come up with approximate numbers in The Green Zone, ... - Cached - [Full article follows. D]

"Thoughts on Military Pollution" By Barry Sanders
EARTH FIRST! JOURNAL professor and prolific author Barry Sanders has spent a long time looking closely at the US Military where others hadn’t: he looked at the environmental effects and the sheer devastation that the military leaves in its wake. He compiled a frightening collection of numbers into his book The Green Zone. I contacted him through the book’s publisher, AK Press, and sent him a letter, asking about the findings, about how we activists are so used to looking at our corporate foes and overlook the military, and about what we as Earth First!ers could hope to do about it. Here is his response:

I do not separate the corporate agenda from the military agenda in this country. I do not mean simply the old Eisenhower conflation, which he daintily called the military-industrial complex. He makes such an alliance sound like a kind of neat and tidy collusion. It is a straight up partnership now: each one needs the other. Almost all big corporations are in the war business, or at the very least, in the military business. Think of auto manufacturing and how many specialized small shops went out of business with the collapse of the auto industry. To raise a tank takes a small corporate village. Cut back on the Pentagon budget and you slice and dice the economy—that’s one grand reason, at least, no politician is willing to take on the military. There are other reasons, but that’s a big one.
Having said that, I am reminded of a line by the Indian writer Arundhati Roy, in her book War Talk: she says “... the state acts in the name of its citizens. So, as a citizen, I am forced to acknowledge that I am somehow made complicit in the Gujarat pogrom.” It is not just large corporations that are complicit in this business of making war and polluting the world. I am complicit, too—we all are. Even though I do not wear a uniform, I am an essential part of the military: I pay my taxes, I am allowed to periodically protest some given war, and thus indirectly and against my will I support the war. For me, what I understood after working on this book is that the fate of the Earth rests in the hands of the military. That is one of the most frightening and appalling notions anyone can confront. The United States military engages in a War of Terror: it is destroying everything. For me, this is an issue of enormous magnitude, which all of us must confront.

How badly does the military pollute? I think as citizens we have no idea how bad the pollution actually is. At any rate, the carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide would translate into numbers and lose its edge, just the way the dead Iraqis and Afghanis and GIs come to us as glorified body counts. The task of computing takes us afield and keeps us distracted. I have come up with approximate numbers in The Green Zone, but who the hell really knows? I say no one. What if we knew the number? Would we be any closer to stopping the war machine?
People want numbers. I understand that. But more importantly, we need action. Here’s an example of how much we do not know: this very morning (Monday, July 27, 2009) I opened the New York Times and read a piece (on page 15) about the military conscription of indigenous peoples—in this case Navajos—during the ‘50s to work in hundreds of military mines in the heart of the Navajo Nation digging up uranium for the military to use in its weapons. (The military used depleted uranium in Iraq in many of its warheads.) Over the years, as the New York Times points out, “Navajo miners extracted some 4 million tons of uranium ore from the ground, much of it used by the United States government to make weapons.” And now those same indigenous people, and their grown children, are falling sick from radiation poisoning. Their houses and drinking water and crops are all contaminated. I count this tragedy, thousands of miles removed from the Middle East, scores of years removed from any Pentagon action, as military pollution.

The last part of The Green Zone takes up the topic of fallout through the military’s use of depleted uranium in certain of its warheads in the war in Iraq. How can I tally or categorize such extraordinary pollution that produces radioactive waste with a half life of 4.5 billion years and that results in disfigured fetuses and corrupts food supplies and kills animals and fish populations and on and on? Can we equate the horror of such lethality with the emission of greenhouse gases? Such a grotesquerie almost makes carbon and sulfite pollution seem tame. This kind of pollution does not of course stay in place but gets blown around the globe on wind currents.
That’s why when I talk about military pollution I want to write the word with a capital P, because it is so much more lethal than any other kind of pollution we have encountered as environmentalists. While the military is the largest single consumer of oil in the world, that can be a misleading statement since America has a population of 330 million people, a great majority of whom drive cars. And who knows the actual count of factories in this country that continually pump carbons into the atmosphere. But, as I try to point out, the military not only pollutes, it contaminates, it transfigures, it eliminates. And this is why I say it makes no difference how green we get in our homes and offices because the military negates our every effort at cutting greenhouse emissions.

Several military critics make the point that bureaucrats in the Pentagon may not even know the exact numbers for military consumption of oil and gas. While we do know that it is the single largest consumer of oil in the world, the Pentagon is just too huge and complex and cumbersome for any citizen to find a number that we can know with certainty. Couple that with the fact that the military hides a good deal of its statistics for fuel consumption, for purchases, for types and kinds of weapons. After months and months of digging into web sites and leaked documents, I do not know the precise figures for the military; I have not come across anyone who does know, or says he or she knows. I spent an enormous time trying to ferret out those numbers—almost everything significant about weapons and vehicles and fuel consumption the Pentagon keeps classified or hidden. In the book, I list those numbers that the military likes to boast about, like the Abrams Tank consuming five gallons of fuel to cover a single mile. During battle, over ideal terrain, the Abrams can gobble up 252 gallons of fuel each and every hour. With its afterburners kicked in, the F-15 uses fuel at the astonishing rate of four gallons per second, or 14,400 gallons an hour!

What can we do as environmentalists? As an initial suggestion—and I do not want anyone to think I have the answers—for stopping the olive-drab juggernaut is an overwhelming prospect, but one thing I would like to suggest is that the movement must redefine itself, must expand its range of concerns to include putting an end to war. If you consider yourself green, you must become olive green and include an opposition to the military.

The International Panel on Climate Change has an agenda that runs to some 20 pages, but it has never included one mention of the war. Whenever the Bioneers meet to discuss climate change, they never mention the military. As far as I am concerned, this is a gross omission.

What to do? For one very apparent thing, an environmental movement that does not include an opposition to all war—not an anti-war stance about Iraq or Afghanistan, but an absolute, no-war stance—is a movement defined too narrowly. In the early years of the Vietnam War, teach-ins enabled people to learn the truth about, say, the Gulf of Tonkin. We ought to be doing the same thing today—educating people about the military’s power to end life on the planet. We need to talk to people about their fears of losing their lives to acts of terror. That fear is misplaced. The military is not protecting us—it is creating more insurgents, more enemies of this country. This is fairly clear to many radicals, but not to the public in general.
The planet, the globe, is at stake—the Earth cannot withstand war any more. If we cannot stop such gross nonsense, the Earth will stop it for us—plain and simple. I can imagine a March of Life on Washington the likes of which history has not witnessed—a huge coalition of people who say no to war, to pollution, to homophobia, to sexism and racism, to oppression of all kinds. Most of the wars this country has engaged in have been against people of color, including of course our current ones. Imperialism is opposed to everything that Earth First! holds sacred.
We must finally see that all these concerns and issues are related. Hate of any kind, discrimination and intolerance of any kind, we must count as social pollution. The issue is not putting an end to the war in Iraq or Afghanistan or Pakistan, or putting a stop to the so-called war on terror. It is a moment of coming to consciousness, of building a new and different and more enlightened and liberating attitude toward the Earth—toward plants and animals and people, toward all living things. The old world, the old, dead world, is built on hate and destruction. It’s time, as they say, to move on—in the largest, most inclusive, most communitarian ways imaginable. Only a communitarian spirit, in my estimation, will save us.
[D: See Korten's Agenda for a New Economy, one of hundreds of books and thousands of articles that for many decades, along with the overwhelming majority of the people of the world, have called for a reversal of the U.S. National Security State: Corporate-Military-Secrecy-White House-Congress-Wars/Killing-Imperialism-Mainstream (Corporate) Media-C02 Climate Change Complex, and the building of a Culture of Peace, a humane, caring society.

Also see: Chap. 16 by Tom Hastings in American Wars: Illusions and Realities, ed. Paul Buchheit.  Hastings examines the illusion that "The environmental consequences of wars are insignifcant," when in reality "War poses the largest environmental problem in human history."]

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