How the U.S. Army Has Contributed to Climate Change
The U.S. Army has recently introduced a plan to fight climate change after an extensive history of being one of the world’s largest contributors to the issue. The Army produces a larger carbon footprint than countries like Sweden, Denmark, and Portugal, but it has only recently been held accountable for its historically overlooked air, land, and water pollution atrocities. To truly understand the gravity of the Army’s contributions to climate change, we need to look at the events and statistics.
War costs fuel — fossil fuel. The Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs found that the U.S. military emitted 1.2 billion metric tons of greenhouse gases between 2001 and 2017. This is more carbon dioxide produced than double the number of cars manufactured in America in that time frame. But it’s not just gas from machinery. It’s gas from burning explosives. Seven years ago, the Army burned millions of explosives and ammunition in Minden, Louisiana. When locals complained, the military moved 95 miles south to Colfax, Louisiana, and continued to burn the toxins there. Brown University also found that if the Pentagon were a country, it would be the 55th largest carbon dioxide emitter. In 2018, BP’s Statistical Review of World Energy found that the U.S. military produced more greenhouse gases than countries like Morocco, Peru, and New Zealand.
The U.S. Army’s contributions to climate change leak into the water as well. In 2018, the Environmental Working Group found that at least 395 military installations all around America have groundwater with perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl, or PFAs. The CDC states that PFAs can cause cancer, increase cholesterol levels, and damage the immune system. These chemicals will affect our water for generations, and cleaning them costs millions of dollars. A 2017 GAO report found that the Department of Defense has spent $11.5 billion evaluating and cleaning bases affected by PFAs. On a similar note, just last year, thousands were displaced from a military base in Hawaii after contamination in the Navy water system. Hawaii’s Department of Health began getting reports of a “gasoline-like odor” in November of 2021 and ordered the facility to be shut down. Despite the later complaints of cramps and vomiting, the military fought the order. The Pentagon only announced that they were shutting down the U.S. Navy facility in March of this year.
The Army also has an extensive list of land pollution atrocities. From 1946 to 1958, the U.S. tested 67 nuclear weapons in the Marshall Islands. These tests are said to be 1,000 times greater than the Hiroshima bomb. It has been decades since the tests, but research from Columbia University reveals that the local Marshallese people still face radioactive contamination decades later. Similarly, from 1944 to 1977, the Army released radioactive gases and fluids near the Navajo Indian Reservation through the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington state. Furthermore, nuclear weapon tests and uranium mining occurred in the same area for about 50 years. The combination of these factors contaminated the water and its inhabitants, including fish, which is the cause of high cancer rates in consumers around the area. In addition to these devastating events, the Army wastes massive amounts of land. There are over 600 military sites that are now Superfund sites, according to the Department of Defense. These sites hold hazardous waste that is detrimental to the health of all living things.
From air to water, the U.S. Army has committed many climate change atrocities, some of which are not discussed as widely as they should be. Regardless, to find a solution, we need to face the issue head-on and understand how we got here.