The Pentagon as Polluter and Poor Job Creator

In my last blog I used two examples: superfund sites in Guam and live bombing practice off of Puerto Rico, to illustrate the toxic waste produced by the worldwide empire of U .S. military bases. This blog expands on those brief illustrations, drawing mainly on Barry Sanders’ book entitled The Green Zone: The Environmental Costs of the Military.*

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

Sanders’ conservative estimate is that the U.S.military uses one million barrels of oil a day, which translates into almost 20 million gallons. This 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 U.S. military accounts for 73 million tons of carbon a year.

The environment is further impacted by exploding bombs — conventional, cluster, napalm, depleted uranium and so on. The U.S. military estimates it annually uses 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.

Since 1991, the United States has been manufacturing just about all of its bullets, tank shells, missiles, dumb and smart bombs out of depleted uranium. A single cruise missile weighs 3,000 pounds, 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.

DU can bite back on the generators. DU researcher Arthur Bernklau has said: “Of the 580,400 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 rate in Gulf War I was highly deceiving, because the damage has come later and continues to build. One caveat in Bernklau’s figures is that some of the damage the U.S. troops have experienced may have come from the U.S. exploding large stocks of Iraqi chemical weapons.

II. The U.S. Military Is a Poor Job Creator

When President Barack Obama announced the shipment of U.S. arms to Middle Eastern countries, he said the shipment would create 50,000 jobs in the United States. Obama shares a general ignorance about the jobs creating performance of weapons manufacturing. I previously presented the consensus of economists who study the issue of job creation in military weapons production: that is, a billion dollars spent in domestic activities such as clean energy, education and health care, produces far more jobs than the same amount spent in weapons production. What I didn’t do previously is develop why this is the case.

A large share of military spending goes overseas or is spent on imported goods; also, more of the military spending goes to capital, as opposed to labor. For example, only 1.5 percent of the price of each F-35 fighter for “manufacture, fabrication and assembly” goes to workers at the plane’s main production facility in Fort Worth, Texas.** Moreover, building the F-35 entails heavy investments in electronic equipment, and carefully treated steel, glass and other materials, with less need to hire people.***

The average pay for jobs connected to military spending is about 20 percent higher than pay for jobs connected to spending on clean energy, education and healthcare; therefore, although military spending produces better compensated jobs, an equivalent amount spent on the activities described above will produce from 50 to 140 percent more jobs.****

Finally, as a major consideration in comparative job creation, tanks, warplanes and naval vessels produce very few jobs comparative to their cost when put into service. Bombs, missiles and shells end their useful life once they are triggered or exploded.


*Barry Sanders, The Green Zone: The Environmental Costs of the Military (AK Press, 2009).

**Robert Pollin and Heidi Garrett-Peltier, Benefits of a Slimmer Pentagon,” The Nation, May 28, 2012.


**** Ibid.



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