Will global warming kill us before the war

War on the environment

Wars lead to massive losses of human life through immediate fighting. However, their consequences go further. The environment was repeatedly damaged for warlike purposes, fields were burned, water bodies were poisoned and land made unusable in order to deprive the population and opposing troops of the livelihood. Increasingly, wars are also causing direct or indirect damage to natural ecosystems. The Second World War caused enormous damage with area bombing and the mining of land and oceans. Many weapons deployments also have long-term effects on human health through pollutants that accumulate in drinking water and the food chain.

Wars and consequences of war

The atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were the first mass murder in history, killing more than 100,000 immediately. The long-term effects of the radioactively contaminated places were even more serious. Hundreds of thousands more died there over the decades after painful illnesses. The aboveground nuclear weapon tests, which were only discontinued in the wake of the Moscow Treaty on the partial test ban of 1963, also caused extensive damage to people and the environment.

Long-term damage in Vietnam

The use of even a fraction of today's atomic arsenals, which are officially intended to serve as a "deterrent", would, according to studies, trigger a climate catastrophe ("atomic winter") and hit mankind hard. The Vietnam War in the 1960s and 1970s was the first war that was specifically directed against nature and the environment. The US military used the defoliant Agent Orange on a large scale to destroy forests and crops. This should prevent the use of the jungle as a hiding place and enemy supply route. Millions of people in Vietnam fell ill or died; to this day, children are born there with genetic defects.

In the wars of the US-led coalition against Iraq in 1991 and 2003, environmental damage occurred in the form of conflagrations in Kuwaiti and Iraqi oil fields, mainly caused by the retreating troops of Saddam Hussein. In Iraq as well as in the NATO war against Yugoslavia, ammunition was used which consists of metallic uranium waste with enormous hardness and density as well as residual radioactivity, with which a high penetration power is achieved when hitting targets. Due to the very high temperatures that occur, the uranium is atomized into microparticles and widely distributed in the environment. In humans, these particles enter the bloodstream and cause severe genetic damage and cancer. Although this is well documented from the war zones mentioned, it is still being hushed up. Given the radioactive half-life of enriched uranium of 4.7 billion years, environmental pollution will exist for eternity.

But not only wars cause damage to the environment and the climate. The military is already damaging the environment through activities such as troop movements, maneuvers and the like and thus contributing to climate change. Globally, it consumes huge amounts of fossil fuels and releases significant amounts of greenhouse gases. In a study of the Pentagon's fuel use, climate change and the costs of war, the US political scientist Neta Crawford points to the huge energy needs of the armed forces, mostly in the form of fossil fuels. The Pentagon is the world's largest institutional consumer of crude oil and thus also the largest institutional producer of greenhouse gases. In one year alone, these emissions are greater than those of many countries. The greenhouse gas emissions caused by the Pentagon were higher in 2017 than those of industrialized countries such as Sweden, Denmark and Portugal.

If the US military significantly reduced its greenhouse gas emissions, Crawford said, it would make the security threats posed by climate change less likely. After all, the military and secret services are increasingly concerned that climate change is threatening national and international security and could even lead to armed conflicts. However, this would overlook the fact that the Pentagon itself is making a significant contribution through its greenhouse gas emissions.

Dangerous maneuvers

In the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, as a measure against global warming, it was stipulated that all countries prepare annual reports on the greenhouse gases they cause, with information on reduction targets for the individual items shown. At the instigation of the USA, however, the military was excluded. Although the so-called national inventory reports now mainly show the CO2 emissions caused by the military, these remain very incomplete. Because the military not only causes CO2 emissions through the consumption of heat and electricity in the domestic properties and the civilian vehicle fleet, but more or less during missions abroad, which are increasingly becoming a declared objective in Germany as well. The latter, however, are not documented in CO2 inventory reports.

In the climate package adopted by the federal government at the end of 2019, the military in the form of the Bundeswehr does not appear, although it causes the majority of CO2 emissions from federal institutions. In Germany, the majority of CO2 emissions are formally documented annually, but without reduction targets. However, with around 250,000 military and civilian employees, the Bundeswehr is by far the largest institution at the federal level and therefore also the largest emitter of greenhouse gases under government responsibility.

But even if there are no public, comprehensive measurements of the Bundeswehr's emissions - they are enormous. Jacqueline Andres refers to this in the analysis of "War and the Environment" by the Militarization Information Center. It is about constant war training, the establishment and logistical supply of military bases as well as the armaments production related to the military.

Here are a few facts:

  • Air force pilots and soldiers have to complete flight lessons or learn to drive tanks or control ships. Such large military equipment consume fuel in completely different dimensions than civil vehicles, a Leopard 2 battle tank in the field z. For example, around 539 liters of diesel per 100 kilometers, a Eurofighter about 3500 kg of fuel, whereby in 2018 the Bundeswehr's Eurofighters were in the air for 10,480 hours and thus emitted 115,280 tons of CO2.
  • Numerous national and multilateral military maneuvers not only damage civil infrastructure, especially roads and bridges, but also nature. Military exercises are always associated with stresses on the natural foundations of life and human health. In 2019, NATO carried out a total of 102 joint military exercises; In addition, there were 208 exercises by the member states in a national or multilateral framework. Large-scale military exercises such as Defender 20 or Atlantic Resolve aim to move soldiers and large military equipment across Europe. On the Russian side, too, no major maneuvers are being saved.
  • Military exercises also cause "collateral damage." For example, a rocket exercise carried out near Meppen in 2018 despite the acute danger of forest fires led to a four-week peat fire which, according to estimates by the environmental organization Nabu, released around 500,000 tons of CO2. Exercises with aerial refueling of fighter jets lead to pollutant emissions such as kerosene discharge from transport machines before (emergency) landings. This is preferably done via natural regions such as the Palatinate Forest in the catchment area of ​​the US Air Base Ramstein.
  • The military bases also leave an »ecological footprint«. The USA alone maintains over 800 military bases outside the country and a strong maritime permanent presence on the world's oceans.
  • The development and production of armaments causes considerable pollution for the environment and climate during operation. In the USA, around 15 percent of industrial production is used for armaments. The associated ecological damage from pollution across the entire production chain and greenhouse gas emissions are immense.

A special topic that has only come into focus in recent years are perfluorinated and polyfluorinated hydrocarbons. Since these substances are practically non-biodegradable in the environment, they can also be called perpetual loads. Entries into the soil and groundwater lead to accumulations in the food chain and toxic long-term effects in the human organism. Although these substances are in principle contained in thousands of everyday products, their use in fire-fighting foams for fire fighting in aircraft is by far the largest single cause. In the past, this was also done at civil airports, but excessively by the US military in order to protect the expensive fighter jets from damage on the ground in the event of a fire. In the USA there are around 1000 locations contaminated with such substances. This is also the case in Germany at over 100 military locations or is still being investigated for relevant contamination.

Confrontation instead of cooperation

Wars and exercises with military equipment have one thing in common: Consideration for the environment and long-term consequences - also for human health - are irrelevant due to the mentality of the military. In the interests of future generations to survive, the mere removal of old military debris would necessarily require a diversion of current armaments spending. But not only wars, war exercises and their consequences pose a threat to humanity. The continuing escalating armament expenditures deprive the necessary resources for a socio-ecological turnaround as well as global climate protection. The urgently required expenditures are only a fraction of the global armament. "Military security" is increasingly becoming a euphemism for the real insecurity of human existence.

Further armament inevitably has one of two existential consequences: either through a global nuclear war or through armament-induced prevention of effective measures against global warming. "Military security" also stands for confrontation in times of necessary global cooperation, which is currently necessary to combat the corona pandemic.

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