U.S. Military Industrial Complex a Major Contributor to Climate Change Crisis

Posted Sept. 21, 2016

MP3 Interview with Patricia Hynes, director of the Traprock Center for Peace and Justice, conducted by Melinda Tuhus


Former presidential candidate and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders called climate change the most urgent threat to national security, but most government officials – and most peace activists – don't necessarily make the connection between the havoc that the climate crisis is already creating and will create in the future on the issues of peace and security. One glaring example is the drought in Syria, which pushed tens of thousands of Syrians off their land and into the cities, exacerbating conflicts which precipitated the civil war that has raged for the past five-and-a-half years, killing up to 500,000 Syrians and displacing millions more.

One group that does make that connection is the Traprock Center for Peace and Justice in Greenfield, Massachusetts. The center's Director Pat Hynes spoke earlier this month to a meeting in Connecticut that was co-sponsored by Promoting Enduring Peace and the Connecticut chapter of 350.org]], which brought peace and climate activists together. Hynes is a retired professor of Urban Environmental Health, and has worked for decades as an educator, researcher, writer and activist on issues of environmental justice, feminism and the health effects of war. Between The Lines’ Melinda Tuhus spoke with Hynes, about how resources dedicated to the military in the U.S. and in other nations around the world, contributes to the urgent crisis of climate change. For more information on the work of the Traprock Center for Peace and Justice, visit the group's website at traprock.org/.

PATRICIA HYNES: The U.S. military is the largest institutional user of oil in the world, and the largest institutional contributor to climate change. The key book, which came out a few years ago, The Green Zone by Barry Sanders, is probably the only book so far written by an author who has tried to ferret out documentation in terms of the amount of oil used by the Pentagon. His conclusion is that the Pentagon contributes five percent of emissions to climate change, but there are some caveats there – and no other institution contributes five percent of the global emissions to climate change. He said that with jet fuel – the Air Force uses one-quarter of the jet fuel that’s used throughout the world – that jet fuel has the capacity to contribute up to three times the amount of carbon dioxide equivalent in its emissions, and it’s because of the particular types of emissions from jet fuel and the impact they have on climate change, so actually he considers five percent an underestimate.

Also, his analysis does not include the mining, manufacturing of materials, metal materials, the testing and transport of everything that goes into their planes and tanks and ships by the military industrial complex. So what I want to do is be more inclusive in terms of the contribution of militarization not only in this country, but in the effect we have on the world through foreign policy. His analysis does not include, for example, the NATO nations, which our government badgers to build up their contribution of military budget to NATO, so pushing countries to build their military budgets to be equivalent to two percent of their country budgets. And that means they, too, scaling up with respect to all these military planes, ships, tanks, and the manufacture and testing of them in war games, etc. – all of this contributing more in terms of militarization and warming.

And then also, I spoke about this yesterday – the new Cold War tensions which the military historian Michael Klare has written about recently among what he calls the Great Powers – those being China, the U.S. and Russia. So the new Cold War tensions among these great powers – which then causes the buildup of militaries in all these countries, plus war games. And there’s an increase, of course, in war games we are conducting with Asian partners in our pivot to Asia to surround China.

And just to give an example from one war that we have conducted: This is information from Oil Change International, a research group, has collected and put together. First of all, this is just one war, the Iraq War. The full cost of the Iraq War, which has been estimated at $3 trillion – that money would have covered all of the global investments in renewable power generation needed between the time they did the report around 2007 through 2030, to reverse global warming trends. So another point about militarism and war and climate change is the trade-off point. If you are dedicating 52 percent of your discretionary budget, as we are doing in the U.S., to the Pentagon and to all of the activities I’ve talked about, the military industrial complex as well. If we are dedicating that percent of our budget, we are then taking it away from all other aspects of the discretionary budget – health, education, welfare, housing, environmental protection, climate change research, transportation, etc.

Another piece they’ve done as a way of analysis in terms of militarism being an engine of climate change is that rebuilding Iraqi schools, homes, bridges, businesses, roads and hospitals pulverized by the war, as well as new security walls and barriers would require millions of tons of cement; cement is one of the biggest industrial sources of greenhouse gas emissions.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Patricia Hynes, there’s been a lot written about how the Pentagon is such a big promoter within the federal government of the need to address climate change, and how it’s taking the lead in that regard.

PATRICIA HYNES: First, the greening of the Pentagon, I would compare to a whitened sepulcher. There is nothing that they can do that would possibly affect the damage that so much of our resources dedicated to militarism and war do. That said, most of the greening of the Pentagon would involve putting solar and wind into bases that they have for electricity, and research on alternative fuels. Forty dollars of military conduct of war for every dollar of greening; that was data from 2010.

BETWEEN THE LINES: You said in your talk that you address groups concerned about peace and groups concerned about climate change, but you rarely address a group that's concerned about both.

PATRICIA HYNES: I think we’d make more progress and much faster progress if we brought them together. As someone in the audience said as I was speaking, we work politically in silos. And so, I think there’s much more power in grassroots groups working in partnership together, which does not mean that we all do the same thing. It’s that we support each other’s issues; we continue to make the connections between them and build bridges between them, so that we have a larger and larger base of activism against war and on behalf of mitigating climate change and becoming a renewable country.

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