Military Pollution and Climate Change

Kathleen McMullen
Jan 22, 2020 · 4 min read

Why sustainable Climate Finance has to increase

Photo by Todd Diemer on Unsplash

This year from November 9 for 12 days the UN Global Climate Conference (GOP26), hosted by the UK with Italy hosting the pre COP26, will take place in Scotland. Over 30,000 delegates are expected to attend the event in Glasgow including the climate campaigner Greta Thunberg. They will be discussing climate finance, carbon markets and the Paris Agreement pledges to reduce carbon emissions (Green House Gases) by 1.5%. (It should have been 2%). Currently, climate finance is meagre compared to the huge sums invested in the production and use of military equipment for defence systems: aircraft, marine vessels, land vehicles, submarines and their digital systems as well as the production of weapons, fuel and energy.

Beautiful Scotland is an appropriate place for the conference. Delegates may find some time to visit the spectacular forests, lochs and highlands; but Scotland is also the home of the UK’s nuclear deterrent submarine (Trident) and an extensive infrastructure of Ministry of Defence (MOD) properties from Wick in the north to Kirkcudbright in the south.

The MOD’s infrastructure has long been a matter of concern to politicians and activists who claim Scotland has been a dumping ground for military radioactive waste for decades: since the 2nd world war, throughout the cold war and the collapse of the Soviet Union, the war in Iraq and the disruptions of the credit crunch. One MP, Douglas Chapman, called Scotland ‘a nuclear dustbin’ after it was discovered the MOD had planned to dispose of nuclear submarines on the seabed near the Western Isles. More recently nationalist politicians have demanded the MOD reveal the extent of its ‘environmental footprint’ in beautiful Scotland.

Scotland like the rest of UK is also affected by the military carbon bootprint. Scientists for Global Responsibility have shown the UK’s military carbon emissions of ‘3.2 million tonnes CO2e’ for 2016/7 were higher than Iceland’s. This figure did not include the emissions of contractors and supplies. In 2016 the UK’s climate finance as a percentage of military spending was only 3.1%. Germany’s 22.2%.

The problem of toxic military emissions and polluting waste is global of course and the biggest culprit, due to leave the Paris Agreement November 4, is the US. According to an important report published in 2019 the US is the world’s largest military polluter and the super secretive Pentagon is the biggest institutional polluter. This report was published 9 years after Nick Turse wrote:

“As an institution, the Pentagon runs on oil. Its jet fighters, bombers, tanks, Humvees, and other vehicles burn 75% of the fuel used by the Department of Defense. For example, B-52 bombers consume 47,000 gallons per mission, and when an F-16 fighter kicks in its afterburners, it burns through $300 worth of fuel in a minute…Thanks to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Department of Defense has been consuming vast quantities of fuel. According to 2008 figures, for example, U.S. military bases in Iraq and Afghanistan used a staggering 90 million gallons per month. Emissions from fighter jets and planes cause disproportionately high impacts on the climate because of the way they mix with atmospheric gasses at high altitudes. Much of this fuel comes from tar sands oil.”

More recently activist Jago Curry commented:

‘The US Department of Defence (DOD) is responsible for huge amounts of devastation to the environment; its use of pollutants such as perchlorate and jet fuels heavily contaminate 19 million acres of occupied land, disrupting local ecologies and toxifying local water sources.

The $600 trillion industry produces more hazardous waste than the five largest US chemical companies combined.’

If ever there was a struggle between Samson and Goliath this is it. Not only is the $600 trillion dollar industry extremely profitable for shareholders it is supported by a wide network of finance corporations holding shares in defence and weapons corporations which include: US Lockheed Martin Corporation, Raytheon, BAE Systems, Northrup Grumman Corporation, General Dynamics, Thale, Leonard, US United Technologies Corporation. The finance corporations include Blackrock, the Vanguard Group, Capital Research & Management Co, The government of Frances, Norges Bank and Barclays.

Some of these organisations may well declare they are going Green but still do not advise shareholders to buy green defence shares. The market in toxic defence shares is fickle, duplicitous and hides in the shadows. One online finance site is advertising: “10 defence stocks to buy during rising geopolitical tensions”! Encouraging the buying of stocks in polluting defence industries by declaring it’s a time of rising geopolitical tensions is investing in carbon emissions. Such practices will widen, not diminish, the climate finance gap.

Reducing carbon emissions and halting the climate crisis cannot be achieved without freeing the world from military pollution in all its forms. That means peace and climate change activists need to work together if they are to persuade taxpayers and politicians to challenge those finance corporations refusing to divest from defence production companies unwilling to decarbonise. Voters need to inform their governments they will not accept a business as usual approach that allows the defence services to profit from military pollution.

Sign up for Age of Awareness - Rethinking the ways we learn

By Age of Awareness

Sign up to receive updates on our publication and podcast Take a look.

By signing up, you will create a Medium account if you don’t already have one. Review our Privacy Policy for more information about our privacy practices.

Check your inbox
Medium sent you an email at to complete your subscription.

Kathleen McMullen

Written by

Citizen, Voter, Reader. Critic of social exclusion practices and unequal justice.

Age of Awareness

Stories providing creative, innovative, and sustainable changes to the ways we learn

Kathleen McMullen

Written by

Citizen, Voter, Reader. Critic of social exclusion practices and unequal justice.

Age of Awareness

Stories providing creative, innovative, and sustainable changes to the ways we learn

Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Learn more

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox. Explore

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic. Write on Medium

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store