With the 2020 election heating up, the environment and climate change have been at the forefront. The Democrats have been touting their Green New Deal, which has been picked up by the majority of presidential candidates as a means of protecting our environment and creating greater centralization of the economy. Most recently, the world was lambasted by Greta Thunberg, the teenage climate activist, as she addressed world leaders at the UN.
World’s Largest Polluter
It is certainly true that the United States is one of the world’s largest polluters, making up roughly 14% of the world’s CO2 emissions as of 2017. It is also worth mentioning that the United States is leading the world in reducing its CO2 emissions, although we seem to forget to mention that during debates. If we are seriously going to address the former and continue the latter, we need to acknowledge another very serious truth: the US military is the world’s largest polluter.
A report issued earlier this year by Brown University’s Watson Institute found that the Department of Defense is the world’s single largest polluter. While much of this pollution comes from non-combat operations, such as training exercises, general logistics and transport, and the upkeep of our installations around the world, the bulk of the emissions have come from the War on Terror.
DOD emissions for all military operations from 2001 to 2017 are estimated to be about 766 million metric tons of CO2e. And of these military operations, it is estimated that total war-related emissions including for the “overseas contingency operations” in the major warzones of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and Syria, are more than 400 Million Metric Tons of CO2e
The report focuses specifically on fuel consumption between 2001 and 2017, covering the different uses of fossil fuels, such as aircraft and ground vehicles. While fuel consumption alone puts the military in the lead for pollution, there is another factor that will increase these numbers. In 2017 alone, it was reported that the US military had dropped over thirty-thousand bombs in the Middle East, each with their own carbon footprint. Taking into account human waste from having thousands of troops clustered in different regions of the globe, garbage generated, and the environmental costs of expended munitions, the already staggeringly high number of carbon emissions is probably significantly higher.
While there is growing animosity towards the multitude of foreign wars that the US is involved in, there has been little movement by Washington to end the conflicts and withdraw our forces. Eighteen years since 9/11, the costs have been growing incessantly, while the benefits to American interests and safety have been veiled, if at all existent.
In 2018, it was reported that the total money spent on these wars by October of this year will be nearly $6 Trillion. With no clear exit plan in place, it is probable that the financial expense of our involvement in the Middle East will only continue to accumulate. With a national debt of over $22 Trillion, ending our foreign entanglements would go a long way to getting our spending under control.
There is also the human cost that we need to address. In November of 2018, the death toll of our wars in the Middle East was and remains staggering. At the low end, the toll is placed at 480,000 and 507,000 at the high end. Civilians make up roughly fifty percent of the casualties since 2001, military personnel make up nearly a quarter (this number also includes Local and National Police and Military), and enemy combatants make up nearly another quarter.
If the original impetus of these wars was the 9/11 terror attacks, without any defined measure of victory which would give us a natural stopping point, surely the ratio of casualties is a good barometer. 2,977 persons died on 9/11. Removing US and Allied casualties, as well as journalists and NGO workers, we have racked up a kill ratio of roughly 118 to 1. In other words for each person killed on 9/11, we have killed 118 persons. Even more alarming is that for every enemy combatant that we have killed, we have killed just over two civilians. Such a margin should surely indicate victory, but the wars carry on.
End the Wars, Save the Planet
There is no doubt that the government is terrible at attempting to solve problems. In a world made up of individuals, each of whom leads very different lives, having a multitude, nay infinite solutions available to us in the free market is a far more effective means of combatting the problems we face. One-size-fits-all answers that restrict the actions of individuals will fail to produce the results that we need to see in the near future and will cripple economic progress.
But there is something the government can do to help us. It can take its foot off the gas pedal. When the government relinquishes control, human beings have a remarkable capacity for innovation. When regulations and barriers to entry are removed, entrepreneurship, employment, and wealth begin to rise, increasing quality of life across the board. We can do the same thing with our military quagmires around the world.
If the previously mentioned costs of war are not enough to bring about the end of such conflicts, then let’s use the primary issues of the environment and climate change as the reason for ending such cataclysmic demonstrations of American might. The US government cannot act as a moral force on the existential threat of climate change, until it makes concerted efforts to end our fight against the existential threat of terror on foreign soil.