U.S. military's carbon footprint is the elephant in the room

Published in the Fort Collins Coloradoan on February 27, 2018

Recent reports on low snow conditions at state ski areas and the extent of drought throughout the country affect all Coloradans. 

It is no longer news that climate change threatens our well-being and security. We read of rising sea levels and increasing natural disasters. What is news, and hardly reported, is the elephant in the room: the enormous carbon footprint of the U.S. military, the largest single consumer of energy in the world.

In 2013, the Pentagon’s reported fuel consumption amounted to 80 percent of total usage by the federal government. Its use of jet fuel alone produces about 39 million metric tons of CO2..

The environment has become the "silent casualty of war" —  fragile ecosystems and habitats destroyed, unexploded munitions left behind, extensive waste contamination and water scarcity — exacerbating the human costs of disease, displacement and migration. (“Scarred Lands and Wounded Lives: The Environmental Footprint of War," https://vimeo.com/21418672)

If we cannot eliminate conflict, we can at least demand that the destructive forces used in our name do less damage.

The U.S. spends more on defense than the next eight countries combined, including Russia and China. The 2019 proposed military budget totals $716 billion, an increase of $70 billion. In 2015, the military budget comprised 50 percent of discretionary government spending. The Pentagon is the only federal agency that has not been audited in compliance with federal law, and it remains exempt from all international agreements on climate.

It is time to put this issue on the political agenda: Challenge our representatives to demand an assessment of the use of military funding and its impact on the environment; question candidates in the mid-term elections; and build coalitions between peacemakers and environmental activists.

In 2001 the U.N. General Assembly established Nov. 6 as the International Day for Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict. Let us begin the work to make this a day of awareness and discussion in Fort Collins.

We cannot protect our freedom while destroying our planet. Nor can we continue to ignore the elephant in the room.  

Sue Ellen Klein, Fort Collins