The Military’s Large Impact on the Environment

Barry Sanders has chronicled the U.S. military’s impact on the environment in a book entitled The Green Zone: The Environmental Costs of the Military, published by AK Press in 2009.

Sanders makes the very serious charge that instead of protecting Americans, the U.S.military by itself produces enough greenhouse gases to put the entire globe, with all its inhabitants, in the “most imminent danger of extinction.”

Sanders conservatively estimates the U.S. military’s use of oil at one million barrels a day, or almost 20 million gallons, for the benefit of those who like to look at fuel use in terms of putting gas in a vehicle. The military’s fuel consumption ranks with that of countries like Iran, Indonesia and Spain, keeping in mind that Indonesia has 235 million people.

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that each gallon of gasoline produces 19.4 pounds of CO2 (carbon dioxide). Thus, in fuel use alone, the military accounts for 73 million tons of carbon a year.

The environment is further impacted by bombs — conventional and cluster — missiles, napalm, depleted uranium and so forth. The military estimates it annually needs 1.5 billion rounds for its M-16 rifles.

Sanders singles out depleted uranium (DU) as a particularly dangerous threat. DU is essentially U-238, the isotope after the fissionable isotope, U-235, has been extracted from uranium ore. DU has a half-life of 4.7 billion years. Sanders describes the devastating impact of DU: “When DU hits something, it ignites, reaching temperatures between 3,000-5,000 degrees Celsius (5,432-9,032 degrees F). It goes through metal like a knife through butter, making it a superb military weapon. But it also releases radiation upon impact, poisoning all around it. Its tiny particles can be inhaled — people don’t have to touch irradiated materials. Thus, troops are being poisoned by simply breathing the air! And once inhaled, DU hardens, turning into insoluble pellets that can’t be excreted. DU poisoning is a literal death sentence. It not only kills, however, but it damages human DNA — it’s the gift that keeps on giving, to generations and generations.”

Since 1991, the United States has been manufacturing just about all of its bullets, tank shells, missiles, smart and dumb bombs out of depleted uranium. A single cruise missile weighs 3,000 pounds and carries within its casing, 600 pounds of DU. The U.S. fired 800 cruise missiles in just the first two days of the invasion of Iraq.

Depleted uranium can bite back on the generators. DU researcher Arthur Bernklau has said: “Of the 580,000 soldiers who served in Gulf War I, 11,000 are now dead. By the year 2000, there were 325,000 on permanent medical disability.” The low casualty toll in Gulf War I was highly misleading, because the damage came later and continues to build. One caveat in Bernklau’s figures is that some of the damage to U.S. troops may have come from the U.S. exploding large stocks of Iraq’s chemical weapons.

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