The Impact of Militarism on the Environment

First of three excerpts from the Science for Peace document by Kristen Ostling

By Kristen Ostling

Even in the absence of war, military establishments consume massive amounts of environmental and human resources.

Compared with the civilian sector, the military "uses more than its proportional share of rare and expensive, and often dangerous raw materials" according to the International Study Team's report, "Health and Welfare in Iraq." The armed forces also deplete vast amounts of energy.

Worldwide, military activities use large tracts of land and airspace. In its ongoing work, global militarism has at its disposal a significant portion of the world's human and financial resources. The development of the military sector of the economy takes place at the expense of the civilian sector.

Energy and Materials

Most of the data available on the military's consumption of energy and materials comes from the United States. Indeed, with a military machine of unparalleled proportions, it is not surprising that the U.S. armed forces consume astronomical quantities of energy and materials.

The Pentagon is considered the single largest domestic consumer of oil. It is very likely the largest worldwide. The Department of Defense purchased 2(X) billion barrels of oil for military use in 1989-enough to run all of the U.S. public transit systems in the U.S. for 22 years.

In less than one hour an F-16 consumes almost twice as much gas as the average American motorist during one year. A modern battle tank's fuel consumption is so high that it can be measured in gallons per mile. From 5 10 15 % of the U.S. non-fuel minerals are used by the Pentagon.

The global statistics on the militarism's consumption of energy and materials are equally sobering:

Land Use

Globally, between 750,000 and 1.5 million square kilometres of land are controlled by armed forces. This does not include the area occupied by arms producing companies.

Michael Renner reports that in recent years more and more land has been turned over to armed forces and consequently withdrawn from public access. Military requirements for land have increased over the past century due to "the increase in the size of standing armed forces and, more particularly, the rapid pace of technological advances in weaponry."

With its choreographed violence, the military destroys large tracts of land it is supposed to protect. Land used for war games is prone to suffer severe degradation. Manoeuvres demolish natural vegetation, disturb wildlife habitat, erode and compact soil, silt up streams, and cause flooding. Bombing ranges transform the land into a moon-like wasteland, pockmarked with craters. Shooting ranges for tanks and artillery contaminate soil and groundwater with lead and other toxic residues.

Recovery from the effects of some military activities may take thousands of years. Nuclear test sites suffer from contamination that is almost permanent. Some production and testing sites used by the military are rendered completely unusable. For example:

Airspace and Atmospheric Pollution

The world's armed forces have even more access to airspace than to land. Military activities have greatly contributed to problems such as air pollution and ozone depletion.

In former West Germany, almost the entire airspace was open to military jets and two-thirds of it to low level flights. Most recent reports state that there were between 700,0000 and one million sorties per year. West German armed forces jets accounted for 58% of air pollutants generated by all air traffic over its territory.

As much as 70% of all airspace is used for military purposes in the United States. The majority of the military flights take place over the Western U.S.A. There are approximately 90,000 training sorties per year. One- fifth of these are at very low levels.

Canada has one of the world's most extensive airspaces for military purposes. Over 100,000 square kilometres are assigned to the Goose Bay Air Base in Labrador. By 1992, the number of low-level sorties flown by Canadian and other NATO jets is projected to increase from 6,656 to 8,400. In Alberta and Saskatchewan, the Cold Lake Air Weapons Range stretches over 450,000 square kilometres of flying area.

One of the most serious effects of military use of airspace results from low-level flights, which disrupt wildlife migrations and behavioural patterns. Human health is also affected: Supersonic "booms" occurring in low-level flights can lead to hearing loss, high blood pressure, disturbance of the intestinal tract and other organs as well as psychological trauma.

In North America, native communities are the most severely affected. In Canada, the Ilnnu of Nitassinan (Labrador) have repeatedly complained to the Canadian government, but the number of flights is increasing over the land. In the U.S. flight training takes place over 14 Native American nations.

Lack of data on atmospheric pollution means that estimates are rough. However, German environmentalist Gunar Seitz estimates that 6 to 10% of global air pollution can be linked to armed forces operations. According to the Worldwatch Institute's research, the total release of carbon dioxide as a result or military activity could be as high as 10 per-cent or total global emissions. One military contractor, General Dynamics (makers of the F-16) uses 500,000 pounds of CFC-113 yearly.

The U.S. military is responsible for half of the worldwide use of CFC-113. the Department of Defense is a major user of Halon 1211 and CVC-113, which account for 13 percent of overall ozone depletion.

According to John O'Connor of the National Toxics Campaign, the world's military forces are responsible for the release of more than two-thirds of CFC-113 into the ozone layer.

The military also uses ozone-depleting substances that have no civilian counterpart. The B-2 Stealth bomber, for example, uses a fuel additive that is a known ozone depleter but of unknown potency.

Ozone depletion is increasingly being linked to serious health problems such as skin cancer, cataracts, and a number of diseases affected by immunosuppression, such as the AIDS virus.

Human and Financial Resource Depletion

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. Between 1960 and 1990, world military spending added up to 21 trillion dollars.

In the U.S., government spending for military Research and Development exceeds that for all civilian needs combined. Thus, such important sectors as environmental protection, alternative energy sources and energy efficiency are shortchanged.

Ruth Leger Sivard, author of the yearly World Military and Social Expenditures report, draws attention to the distorting effects that heavy military spending has had on the global economy. The enormous sums invested in arms and armies do not provide an economic foundation for development progress. By diverting capital research facilities and manpower from civilian enterprise, these expenditures slow productivity gains and stimulate inflation. Fora developed country the result can be a gradual erosion of competitive status in the international market. For a fragile developing country, it can be a quick route to bankruptcy.

World military research and development expenditures continue to grow at twice the rate of military expenditures as a whole. Yet there is a lack of funds for monitoring global climatic change, surveying disappearing rainforests and spreading deserts, and for developing agricultural technologies for rain-fed tropical regions.

Military research and development "impairs a country's innovative capacity by drawing scientific talent away from the civilian sector," according to Renner.

Over 20% of all scientists and engineers in the world are employed by the military sector. World military research and development expenditures rose from $13 billion per year in 1960 to $100 billion in 1986.

According to Brundtland: "Half a million scientists are employed on weapons research worldwide, and they account for around half of all research and development expenditure. This exceeds the total combined spending on developing technologies for new energy sources, improving human health, raising agricultural productivity, and controlling pollution."

This excerpt from the Science for Peace document Taking Stock: The Impact of Militarism on Development is from Part2: Environmental Impact of World Military Establishments. The entire document, which is 37 pages long (including footnotes) is available for $3.50 from: Science for Peace, University College, University of Toronto, M5S 1A7.

Peace Magazine May-Jun 1992

Peace Magazine May-Jun 1992, page 8. Some rights reserved.

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