US Military and Sustainability

Photograph Source: Robert Couse-Baker – CC BY 2.0

Thought experiment: China contaminates the groundwater in certain places on Oahu, the most populous and popular island in Hawaii.

Should we issue a statement of concern? Should we impose trade sanctions? Should we bomb a few Chinese military bases? Should we just declare war on China?

Whatever response is appropriate in our thought experiment, now consider that the actual perpetrator is the US military. Indeed, the US Army is accusing the US Navy of contaminating the water in a massive number of its 24 military communities in the vicinity of Pearl Harbor. US Navy attacks US military on Pearl Harbor? Can it get any more ironic?

Though the news of the Navy’s egregious error has sparked outrage amongst the citizens of Hawaii and abroad, this is not necessarily anything new. The US military is one of the biggest polluters in the world. Just a tiny fraction of what we are learning now:

* Military members, their families, and surrounding civilian residents in the Marietta, Georgia Dobbins Air Reserve Base are learning this week that their drinking water is contaminated by some of the “forever chemicals” used on the base and that the first many heard about it was when the local Fox News reporters came to them for comment. These chemicals are known carcinogens and cause thyroid disease and—some of the worst news in the pandemic—weakened immune systems in children.

* The Pentagon is the world’s greatest single consumer of oil and thus one of the largest single emitters of greenhouse gases and thus the single entity most responsible for climate chaos—massive hurricanes, forest fires, floods, rising seas, climate refugees, and more.

Aside from jet fuel leakages and them being one of the largest consumers of oil in the world, a great deal of nuclear weapons testing has led to islands in the Pacific and areas of Native American land to be desolate and abandoned. These actions have made some of these areas unlivable to this day.

The US military spends more than any other military. The international position that the US is usually seen as is one where they are considered the strongest and most powerful, commanding respect from allies and instilling fear in adversaries. As a result, they have also been excused from most of their mishaps and negligence by the international community and historically by our own EPA.

Unless we act and hold the military accountable for their extreme negligence and haphazard usage of equipment and chemicals that has persisted for decades, incidents like the one in Hawaii will continue to arise. Possible reforms may include:

* Ensuring the military’s budget is reduced or at the very least reprioritized to bioremediation, pollution prevention, and military purchase of clean energy and manufactured items.

* Holding the military accountable for every environmental impact it produces anywhere, including basic transparency so military members, their families, and all civilians understand the threats to their health and can make informed decisions.

All these incidents are done with your earned money, your income taxes. All those decisions are made in your name in our democracy.

All these acts are either accidental or deliberate, of course. Accidents should be teachable events so better prevention protections are instituted. Deliberate decisions to pollute because it’s easier should be outlawed and there should be serious consequences.

Otherwise, our own “protectors” are the ones hurting us. This is wrong at every level and only correctable by all of us deciding to elect lawmakers who will take this as seriously as it deserves to be taken.

Sebastian Santos is a graduate of Portland State University and is pursuing a master’s degree at Lewis and Clark College.