Greening the military, sustainable warfare, and other paradoxes

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates, Talks and Presentations

The BBC had a programme the other week, 'Greening the Military', which looked at how British (and other) armed forces are increasingly having to take account of the environmental impact of their activities.  This is part of the BBC's blurb for the programme:

... given the fact that war zones are highly hazardous locations, subject to extreme and enduring destruction, the thought of Britain's armed forces caring for the natural world can strike many as an extraordinary paradox. Nonetheless their activities are increasingly answerable to European environmental legislation, and battalions in the field are having to think carefully about their carbon footprints and carbon-dependency.

We hear how each new weapon system receives an environmental audit before it is deployed, and because of noise abatement measures, Eurofighter planes have to do full combat training exercises over the North Sea rather than over mainland Europe.

Angus Crawford asks whether the armed forces can do their job whilst also respecting the environment. Speaking to serving infantry officers fresh back from Helmand Province, he also visits a Swedish arms factory that prides itself on making environmentally-friendly lead-free bullets that don't pollute the water table. We also hear about so-called green fuel initiatives being deployed by British and American armed forces in order to reduce their reliance on diesel. This, we hear, is in response to the high human and financial cost of delivering fuel to remote theatres of war, such as Helmand. And, as one of Britain's largest landowners, we hear how the MoD's firing ranges have become a refuge for many rare species of wildlife that are no longer found in rural areas that are farmed in the conventional way.

For many, I know, this is all a paradox too far, because they see sustainability through a collaborative, war-free lens; i.e., there will be no sustainability until we have world peace, harmony, the brotherhood of (hu)man, etc.  Whilst there is probably something in this, it is certainly possible to envisage human pressures on the biosphere and other environmental tensions being eased whilst at the same time there are still differences between (and within) countries that come to be resolved by fighting.  Indeed, might it be that, in some places, fighting is necessary in order to ease sustainability?  If human rights are an aspect of a sustainable society, then that seems plausible.  In the meantime, it seems rather inevitable that we shall have more water (and other resource) wars as the pressures intensify on us.

I live on the edge of Salisbury Plain where some of the ecological effects of the military can be quite positive: better the army than countless more acres of barley, many feel.  Wildlife seem to thrive, despite shelling, trenching, yomping, and the like.  It was the same in the Baltic States with the Red Army, I am told.

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates, Talks and Presentations


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