A report by a Canadian
research institute states that the armed forces of the world are
the single biggest polluters on the planet. Science for Peace Institute
at the University of Toronto found that 10-30 percent of all global
environmental degradation can be attributed to military activities.
The world's military forces also use up enormous amounts of environmental
and human resources while they use huge amounts of energy.
The Pentagon is the
largest single consumer of petroleum in the the world. Some figures
show that the U.S. military uses enough oil in one year to run all
of the U.S. transit systems for the next 14-22 years. In less than
one hour a U.S. F-16 fighter jet uses twice as much fuel as the
average U.S. auto driver. One-quarter of the world's jet fuel is
consumed by the world's military. And worldwide the military consumption
of copper, nickel, aluminum and platinum exceeds that of the Free
The world's military
establishments also use and control vast amounts of land. In the
U.S. alone the sum of all land set aside for military use is equivalent
in size to the state of Virginia. In 1992, the military in the former
Soviet republic of Kazakstan controlled an area equivalent to twice
the size of Virginia. The Canadian Research Institute report states,
"the military destroys large tracts of the land it is supposed
to protect.... Recovery from the effects of some military activities
may take thousands of years." In Indiana the U.S. Army closed
its severely polluted Jefferson Proving Ground because cleanup was
considered too dangerous and costly (it included contamination from
Depleted Uranium testing).
have also significantly increased air pollution and ozone depletion.
For instance, West Germany's Air Force produced 58% of the air pollution
generated by all air traffic in the country. Low-level flights by
the military interfere with wildlife migration patterns, and human
health. In North America, Native communities are most affected by
these flights. A German estimate has stated that 6 to 10% of global
air pollution is related to military activities. Furthermore, the
world’s militaries are responsible for two-thirds of the ozone depleting
CFC-113 released into the air.
The University of Toronto
report documents the worldwide devastation caused by toxic and hazardous
wastes produced by the military. "Globally, the U.S. and Soviet
armed forces produce the greatest amounts of hazardous waste,"
the report said in 1998. The Pentagon, for example, generated 5
times the toxic waste than the 5 largest U.S. chemical companies
combined. In the former USSR, there was so much toxic waste put
into Lake Karachay that authorities had to cover up the lake with
a layer of concrete. In some of these areas in Eastern Europe has
groundwater that is contaminated 30 to 50 times allowable levels,
particularly around former Soviet military bases. Ten percent of
former East Germany has been polluted or ruined, largley by the
According to a Worldwatch
report, radioactive fallout from nuclear testing may have caused
as many as 150,000 premature deaths and 86,000 birth defects worldwide.
The International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War predict
that open air testing of nukes will cause 2.4 million cancer deaths.
And in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists in 1989, Joshua Handler
and William Arkin report, eleven nuclear reactors and at least fifty
nuclear warheads sit on ocean floor.
The report also says,
"The environmental costs of militarism are compounded by the
lost opportunities resulting from the annual diversion of almost
$1 trillion in global resources for military purposes." Only
eight percent of the world’s military expenditures would be enough
to pay for safe sewage treatment programs, and water supplies, the
reversal of tropical deforestation and desertification, and population
control measures world wide. "If we neglect the military system
when discussing the future of our planet," says David Parnas,
president of Science for Peace, "we will be ignoring some of
the greatest sources of environmental damage and overlooking some
of the least disruptive corrective measures available to us."
(Reworked from: Reto Pieth , Nation, 6/8/92, Vol.254 issue 22)
"If we look at
the five nuclear powers, we find that the nuclear legacy has not
only consumed scarce resources but also massively polluted the land
and sea, undermined health, doubled the rate of damaged genes in
the human gene pool, and seriously reduced resource productivity
over vast stretches of land and sea. Should nuclear weapons be used,
life as we know it would cease. Because of its dependence on the
civilian economy, the military both lies about the lethal nature
of its inventions and tries to create commercial uses for them.
Militarism has become a self-destructive, all-encompassing addiction
for some of our fellow humans, and the rest of us are passive cooperators
with that addiction. Rousing ourselves from that cooperative lethargy
is our first priority for disentangling ourselves from the seduction!
Money and social approval must be withdrawn from these enterprises,
and our focus must change to conserving the planet Earth and securing
--Rosalie Bertell, director
of the International Institute of Concern for Public Health in Toronto
Which Path to a Safer World?