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The US must reduce Pentagon pollution to accomplish Biden's new standards

Updated: May 13, 2022

At its core, demilitarization is an environmental issue.

By Jena Renae, WAND Communications Intern

Today, President Biden committed to a significant cut in U.S. carbon emissions—decreasing emissions to half the 2005 emission levels by 2030. This is an admirable goal and a significant step up from the Paris Agreement in 2015, which aimed for a 25% cut by 2025. But the administration has yet to reveal a detailed plan for how such a target will be reached, stating only that changes will be “economy-wide” with plans to release sector-by-sector recommendations throughout the year. In order to make real change, these efforts must include significant reform within the U.S. defense industry.

The United States Department of Defense (DOD) is the world’s largest oil consumer, meaning that it is also one of the top greenhouse gas emitters. In fact, the DOD generates more hazardous waste than the five largest U.S. chemical companies combined. The military has made some attempts to address its environmental footprint by increasing renewable electricity use on bases, but military pollution cannot be fully addressed without systematic changes.

At its core, demilitarization is an environmental issue. U.S. military presence has contributed to radiation surrounding former nuclear testing sites, ocean and groundwater contamination, and more. Hundreds of military bases can be found on the EPA’s list of superfund sites eligible for clean-up grants from the government.

The effects of defense industry pollution are highest for communities on the frontline. The human cost of military actions is evident in increases of cancer rates and other medical conditions among civilians and soldiers living in proximity to war zones, military bases and former nuclear testing sites.

The environmental impacts caused by the defense industry cannot be solved by just “going green.” The most impactful step we could take would be to enact sweeping changes to the size and scope of the U.S. defense structure. The bloated Pentagon budget can and must be reduced in favor of funding environmental programs, social programs, and sustainable infrastructure projects. The opportunity cost of allocating roughly half of all discretionary spending to military efforts is too high; the amount dedicated to defense in 2021 could fund almost 10 million clean energy jobs.

What’s more, the United States spends more on national defense than the next ten countries combined: China, India, Russia, Saudi Arabia, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Japan, South Korea, and Brazil. Reallocating even a portion of this money toward green energy sources, healthcare, housing, education, and public transportation efforts would be revolutionary, and wouldn’t make us any less safe.

Saving the environment will only be possible with a sweeping reevaluation of military resources. We cannot fully undo the harm that’s been done, but we must face—and attempt to rectify—the lasting consequences of military pollution that will be passed onto future generations.

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