The burning issue of the military and pollution
- Credit: Laurie Manton/ARMY/PA.PA
Mark Taylor, from Sustead, is a climate scientist and former Green Party parliamentary candidate. In this column, he writes about the overlooked impact of the military on the environment.
Military might is generally idolised and perceived as a hugely positive institution. On the one hand we feel we believe we need some sort of visible, patriotic deterrent to stop us being invaded by any number of potential threats, on the other hand, they are one of the biggest polluters on earth.
So what are the threats that we need such a deterrent? Russia? China? Terrorism?
There is often a media-fuelled consensus that these are real. We are constantly at war with other countries that want to take our freedom away, they want to control us with unknown and sinister methods of governance.
They want to restrict our freedoms, the ones we have worked and fought so hard for.
There is an obvious counter argument to this that perhaps these countries are not really that interested in us, after all, what do we have to offer? Wars are almost always fought over resources or to make governments/corporations richer.
There are few resources in the UK. We are a small, relatively insignificant island that used to act big on the world stage.
Combine this with the fact that other nations need to manage and govern their own populations, cope with their own internal struggles, do they really have the time or want to invade other countries?
Let's consider another recent and huge concern, terrorism. The general view is that we are surrounded by bad people wanting to kill us.
The actual data does not back this up. Deaths from terrorism are 390 times less than from road traffic accidents.
Road traffic accidents are ninth-11th on the table of leading causes of death globally.
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The biggest killers in the UK are down to inactivity or unhealthy living habits, including heart disease, dementia/Alzheimer's and lung cancer (ons.gov.uk).
The number of lung cancer deaths in 2017 were almost 180,000, the number of deaths from terrorism were bottom of the table at 42, this picture is mirrored globally (ourworldindata.org).
Interestingly, many of the illnesses that are rated as leading causes of death both in the UK and globally can be related directly or indirectly to air pollution.
Worldwide the death toll from all types of pollution is 7-10 million people each year and growing.
The death toll from climate change is currently more than 150,000 per year and growing.
The military, from all nations, were given immunity in the 1997 Kyoto Protocol from sharing their emissions data.
Research into this area has increased exponentially over the last 12 months and shows that they are proving to be one of the world's biggest polluters, equivalent, with the limited data available, to Portugal and Nigeria, just through fossil fuel use.
Not included in the emissions and pollution data is military land use for training. Land ownership is currently estimated at around 6pc globally, their energy use is equivalent to a small country, supply chain including mining and manufacturing of their chemical, biological and military hardware and the environmental disaster of war.
Taking all of these into account, their emissions look to be much higher than previously thought.
We also need to consider the deaths as a result of war, were these really necessary? During the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, over 200,000 servicemen were killed and over
350,000 civilians died. All of this rising from 2,996 civilian deaths during 9/11.
Dwarfing any of these figures is the huge contribution of the military to global pollution
which could be responsible for up to 2.5 million deaths a year and perhaps more.
To put this into perspective...this is us and our families being affected.
The investment in the military in 2019 was $2 trillion and increases year on year, this is the same amount ($1 trillion-$2 trillion per year) needed to tackle climate change.
Close to 3pc of UK GDP is spent on the military with just 0.01pc going toward climate change mitigation.
Human evolution has always been about survival of the fittest. It seems that somehow, along the way, we became confused about this, becoming convinced that violence and war is the purveyor of our strength.
It looks increasingly that we have been sold a lie. The pandemic has taught us that compassion and caring for each other, is defining our purpose and wellbeing.
Climate change is teaching us that we have gone too far and need to dramatically reduce our obsession with ‘stuff’.
Perhaps it is now time to question why just one institution is immune from
any regulation when they could well be primarily responsible for our extinction.
The damage they do to human life and our planet, far outweighs any benefit.