Here is a sobering look at the choices ahead:
- The U.S. military is one of the largest institutional polluters in the world. Since 2001, the U.S. military has emitted 1.2 billion metric tons of greenhouse gases, equivalent to the annual emissions of 257 million cars on the road. The U.S. Department of Defense is the largest institutional consumer of oil ($17B/year) in the world, and the largest global landholder with 800 foreign military bases in 80 countries. The U.S. military emits more greenhouse gas emissions than 150 nations.
- The majority of “Superfund” sites in the U.S. are current or former military- related installations, sites designated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency where extreme hazardous waste threatens human health and the environment.
- The U.S. military is the third largest polluter of waterways in the country, releasing some 63 million pounds of pollutants from 2010-2014, including carcinogenic and radioactive chemicals, rocket fuel, and toxic sewage.
- A Pentagon Report released in 2018 details widespread chemical poisoning of water supplies on military bases and in surrounding communities worldwide. The report identifies the presence of PFOS and PFOA chemicals in drinking water at levels known to be harmful to human health and linked to cancer and birth defects. At least 401 bases are known to have contaminated water. PFOA and PFOS chemicals are used in fire retardants during routine fire-training exercises on U.S. military bases worldwide – I know this because my husband was stationed at Camp LeJeune in the 1970’s. A couple of years ago, we received a letter saying that the U.S. Government will cover all his health expenses for a long list of cancers associated with the toxins discovered in the water supply there. This is cold comfort. It would be better if the number of military bases were paired down and clean ups were undertaken at any with Superfund sites on the premises.
- At least 33,480 U.S. nuclear weapons workers who have received compensation for health damage are now dead. Nuclear weapons production sites in Washington, Tennessee, Colorado, Georgia, and elsewhere have poisoned the surrounding environment as well as their employees, more than 3,000 of whom were awarded compensation in 2000.
- U.S. foreign policy emphasis on military strategies focuses much of our nation’s resources, creativity, and talents on maintaining worldwide military dominance, distracting us from the real existential threats of climate crises, pandemics/health, and conflict escalating to inadvertent or deliberate nuclear war.
Post Covid we need to begin on a new path
We need to dedicate vastly greater resources to energy efficiency, building renewable energy infrastructure and transitioning away from fossil fuel intensive industries. We need to adopt a price on carbon here in the U.S. so prices reflect the true cost carbon intensive products impose on our country and the world. We need to collaborate with other nations to find innovative solutions that will speed the decline in fossil fuel use, similar to the efforts to develop the COVID-19 vaccines.
No nation can solve the threat of climate change alone. Carbon neutrality by 2040 or 2050 is not enough. We need to curtail natural gas infrastructure development now (that means not building Killingly or Middletown gas power plants) and rapidly deploy solar and wind here in CT and elsewhere. Otherwise, extreme weather and other negative consequences of climate change are likely to become irreversible. National security relies on global stability more than ever in our interconnected world. If we work together, there is a chance our kids and grandkids can have a quality of life similar to what we have had, but only if we step up to our responsibilities as the richest nation on earth.