From the time of the American Revolutionary War when the U.S. won independence from England, Americans have maintained some semblance of a military force. The first Army was initially disbanded except for a few dozen troops.
After taking office, President Washington urged Congress to establish an effective system for the military1 “on which the honor, safety and well-being of our country so evidently and essentially depend.” Throughout the 236 years since the end of the Revolutionary War the U.S. has formally declared war on few occasions: the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War, the Spanish-American War, WWI and WWII.2
However, the various branches of the U.S. military have assisted abroad more than 300 times.3 The goal of the U.S. Army, for instance, is to defend America from attack and protect vital national interests.4 To accomplish this, the U.S. maintains an armed service of more than 3.1 million men and women stationed in the U.S. and around the world.5 They protect 12,479 miles of coastline and 7,458.4 miles of water and land boundaries.6
The military maintains at least 400 bases found on every continent except Antarctica.7 In a post-Cold War era, America took on the role of mediator, negotiating conflicts to reduce tension and encourage stability around the world.
In a statement before Congress submitted by past U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and past assistant to the president for National Security Affairs Stephen Hadley, they said:8
“Over the past seventy years, Democratic and Republican administrations alike have understood that American security and prosperity at home are linked to economic and political health abroad, and that America does better when other countries have the incentive and the capacity to work alongside us in tackling global challenges …
The international order America built and led has not been perfect, but it has coincided with a period of security and prosperity unmatched in human history.”
China is currently expected to add military bases in areas where they have long-standing relationships, including Pakistan.9 Recently, British researchers from Durham University and Lancaster University find supporting the strength to defend the U.S. and their allies comes with a significant environmental cost.10
Study finds largest military also leaves carbon boot print
In a study published in Transactions of The Institute of British Geographers, researchers describe the enormous carbon boot-prints the U.S. military has been leaving around the world, relating the results of their research as a representation of a partial11 “yet robust picture of the geopolitical ecology of American imperialism.”
In an article entitled, “US Military Is a Bigger Polluter Than as Many as 140 Countries — Shrinking This War Machine Is a Must,” written by three of the researchers, they discuss the high levels of carbon emissions from military transports, saying:12
“Greenhouse gas emission accounting usually focuses on how much energy and fuel civilians use. But recent work, including our own, shows that the US military is one of the largest polluters in history, consuming more liquid fuels and emitting more climate-changing gases than most medium-sized countries.
If the US military were a country, its fuel usage alone would make it the 47th largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world, sitting between Peru and Portugal.”
The study analyzed data retrieved from multiple Freedom of Information Act requests, looking at the U.S. military supply chains, and specifically hydrocarbon fuel purchases and distribution.
The U.S. Defense Logistics Agency Energy (DLA-E) was ultimately formed after the Vietnam War to consolidate logistics for every military branch, which the researchers characterized as “the invisible hand of imperialism.”13
“Every mode of warfighting requires its own unique hydrocarbon delivery system. The DLA-E is the bureaucratic apparatus mainly responsible for procurement and arranging delivery of hydrocarbons in this shifting geopolitical environment, and therefore controls the size and shape of the US military’s carbon boot-print.
Without the highly developed, professionalised logistics and military supply-chains, the US military’s reach, as well as its capacity to burn so much fuel, would be substantially impeded.”
While noting the environmental impact of hydrocarbon fuel emissions from the U.S. military is a significant contributor to climate change, the researchers suggested the only recourse was to shut off the engine protecting American’s and their allies around the world:14
“The only way to cool off the furnace is to turn it off, shuttering vast sections of the machine. This will have not only the immediate effect of reducing emissions in the here-and-now, but will also disincentivise the development of new hydrocarbon infrastructure that would be financed (in whatever unrecognised part) on the presumption of the US military as an always-willing buyer and consumer.
Opposing US military adventurism now is a critical strategy for disrupting the further construction of locked-in hydrocarbons for the future.”
Pollution near military bases at higher levels than EPA code
While military drills and exercises may be disruptive,15 and sometimes dangerous,16 without training and practice military men and women would not be prepared to defend freedoms, transport supplies, guard embassies and train search and rescue teams at home.17
However, the processes require a significant overhaul, especially for firefighters and surrounding communities. According to Military Times,18 the water near 126 military bases tested positive for harmful levels of perfluorinated compounds. These substances are ubiquitous and part of a large and ever-expanding group of chemicals widely used in everyday products.
The chemicals are used in clothes, carpet, cookware and firefighting foam to make it more effective19 but at the high cost of damaging the health of those who are exposed.20 PFAS is the abbreviation used for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, neither of which is a single chemical but each a member of a family of man-made compounds.21
A report provided to the House Armed Services Committee listed contamination at 401 active and closed bases in the U.S. Drinking water contamination was identified at 36 sites and more than 90 reported on-base or off-base groundwater or drinking water contamination where the source tested above the EPA’s acceptable level for perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) or perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOAs).22
On military bases these chemicals are used in concentrated foam used to put out fires on aircraft. A statement by the deputy assistant secretary of defense for environment, safety and occupational health, Maureen Sullivan, indicated the Department of Defense was installing filters and distributing bottled water,23 in addition to other changes.
The DoD tested 2,668 groundwater wells finding 61% were at higher levels than the EPA’s recommended levels, which is no more than 70 parts per trillion. The guidelines established in 2016 were not enforceable; however, the DoD tested all locations and is currently working to comply with new standards.
Sullivan indicated24 it will not be a quick fix, as at least 12 water sources are provided by vendors or through a local utility and that since EPA guidelines are not enforceable, it becomes more difficult to make changes.
Sullivan estimates the cleanup for perfluorinated substances will add $ 2 billion to the costs of cleanup projects for which the military is responsible.25 The Air Force subsequently shifted all their bases from the legacy foam containing perfluorinated compounds26 to Phos-Chek 327 and retrofitted their fire trucks to accommodate the new product.28
Strategies needed to find acceptable alternatives
Perfluorinated compounds may be found in food packaging material, commercial household products, and drinking water, as well as in fish, animals and humans, where they have the ability to build up and persist over time.29
According to the EPA,30 they are capable of triggering reproductive and developmental disabilities, liver and kidney disorders and immunological effects in laboratory animals. They also cause tumors in animal studies as well as low infant birth weight and thyroid hormone disruption.
Authors of an opinion-editorial wrote:31 “There are few activities on Earth as environmentally catastrophic as waging war.” But, unfortunately, until it is possible to control the political stability of the world, the possibility of war is a reality many live with every day.
While most of the human race strives for world peace, it is essential strategies are put into place to find safe alternatives to fight fires and protect those who fall under the purview of the U.S. armed services.
What can you do to reduce your pollution footprint?
There are multiple factors contributing to rising pollution and declining health. Air, food and water pollution increase your risk of experiencing poor health. You may reduce your impact and take control of your health by making simple changes at home, which, taken together, may make a large impact on your local environment and overall health.
Plant some trees — Trees provide oxygen, improve air quality and conserve water while preserving the soil and supporting wildlife. Consider planting a few trees in your yard.32
Eat locally grown, organic produce and grass fed, pastured meat and dairy — The recent explosion of lab-created meat substitutes may be tempting if you believe it’s the lesser of two evils, as compared to concentrated animal feeding operations. However, fake food is never an answer and regenerative farming has been proven to restore ecosystems, promote health and reduce pollution.
Additionally, eating organically grown produce reduces your exposure to pesticides and insecticides and improves the soil in which it’s grown. Read more about regenerative farming practices in my past article, “Regenerative Farming: Restoring Soil Health and Saving Americans From Cancer, Chronic Disease.”
Drive less — Public transportation, walking, biking, carpooling and ride-sharing are all alternatives to hopping in your own car every day to go to work.33 It is important to also maintain your car by keeping the tires properly inflated to increase your fuel efficiency. This helps ensure the car is properly maintained, and it includes brakes and oil changes. Try to combine your trips when you’re out.
Take care of your clothing — According to clothing designer Eileen Fisher,34 who was honored for her environmental work at the 2015 Riverkeeper’s Annual Fishermen’s Ball,35 “The clothing industry is the second largest polluter in the world … second only to oil.”
Taking good care of what you purchase may affect the toll on your local environment. Read more in my past article, “Care What You Wear: The Benefits of Becoming Clothing Conscious.”
Produce less waste — It is sometimes easy to toss the garbage in the can and forget about where it ends up. Think about purchasing food in bulk and using your own reusable container.36 Reduce waste by planning your meals before going shopping and then freezing or reusing the extra.
When you have food waste, compost it and use it in your garden for rich fertilizer. If you live in a large city, you may be able to find a compost drop-off site. If your city doesn’t have such a system,37 consider starting a program with a local neighborhood garden.
Do a home energy audit — Conduct your own energy audit at home to help save money and reduce the amount of pollution you produce. Switch lights off when you leave the room and unplug your electronic devices when they’re not in use, especially your modem and routers to reduce the strength of electromagnetic fields in your home.
Turn your water heater down to 120 degrees Fahrenheit and install low-flow shower heads to save water and electricity. Steer clear of LED lights. While they may be more energy-efficient, they will also contribute to deteriorating vision, exacerbate chronic disease through mitochondrial dysfunction and impede quality sleep, as I discuss in a past article, “The Dangers of LED Lightbulbs.”