Article by Joe McCarthy, originally published in Global Citizen
The Russian invasion of Ukraine has caused catastrophic loss of life, widespread displacement, and a growing global food crisis.
The conflict has also extensively harmed Ukraine’s natural environment, highlighting the many ways in which war devastates biodiversity and contributes to the climate crisis.
Advocates and organizers within Ukraine have documented hundreds of environmental crimes that together, they argue, warrant the charge of ecocide by international courts. These crimes include attacks on industrial facilities that contaminate groundwater supplies and airways and the deliberate bombing of wildlife refuges and other important ecosystems.
With each additional day of warfare, Ukraine’s ability to recover its vibrant society and environment wanes, and its capacity for transitioning to an economy that excludes fossil fuels shrinks.
In recent years, a growing narrative has argued that the climate crisis is a national security threat that demands military investments. But while a deteriorating environment does, in fact, threaten people, few things fuel the crisis quite like war, which props up the global fossil fuel industry by locking in oil, gas, and coal demand, according to the Conflict and Environment Observatory (CEOBS).
War also inevitably entails destruction, resulting in widespread toxic substances, dead wildlife, and an atmosphere choked with fumes.
3 Key Facts About How War Impacts the Climate Crisis and the Environment
- Militaries consume enormous amounts of fossil fuels, which contributes directly to global warming. If the US military were a country, for example, it would have the 47th highest emissions total worldwide.
- Bombings and other methods of modern warfare directly harm wildlife and biodiversity. The collateral damage of conflict can kill up to 90% of large animals in an area.
- Pollution from war contaminates bodies of water, soil, and air, making areas unsafe for people to inhabit.
Warfare Releases Greenhouse Gas Emissions
The world’s militaries account for an estimated 6% of all greenhouse gas emissions, and many governments don’t even report data on emissions from military activities, according to the Guardian.
“Those that do often report partial figures,” Dr. Stuart Parkinson, executive director of the Scientists for Global Responsibility, told the Guardian. “So figures for military aircraft could be hidden under ‘aviation,’ military tech industry under ‘industry,’ military bases under ‘public buildings,’ etc. Indeed, it’s not just the public who are unaware, the policymakers are also unaware, and even the researchers.”
Even in peacetime, militaries consume extreme amounts of dirty energy. The US Department of Defense’s 566,000 buildings, for example, account for 40% of its fossil fuel use. These include training facilities, dormitories, manufacturing plants, and other buildings on the department’s nearly 800 bases worldwide. In countries like Switzerland and the United Kingdom, defense ministries similarly consume the most fossil fuels among government agencies. Other countries with massive militaries like China, Saudi Arabia, Russia, and Israel do not report their emissions totals, but the pattern is expected to be the same.
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