The worldwide, prestigious World Conservation Congress of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) was held in Honolulu this week. The IUCN has come in for criticism for its lack of focus on the detrimental effects of wars and military operations on nature. Considering the degree of harm coming from these human activities one would think that the organization would have a specific theme and a series of workshops on that theme. Of the over 1,300 workshops crammed into a six-day marathon environmental meeting, followed by four days of discussion of internal resolutions, nothing specifically addressed the destruction of the environment by military operations and wars.
The heavy funding the IUCN gets from governments is undoubtedly the rationale for not addressing this "elephant in the room" in a conference for the protection of the endangered planet -- a tragic commentary on a powerful organization that should acknowledge all pressures on the planet.
U.S. Military tries to "Green Wash" the Effects of its Operations
At a presentation at the USA Pavilion during the conference, senior representatives of the US Army, US Air Force and US Navy regaled the IUCN audience of conservationists with tales of caring for the environment including protecting endangered species on hundreds of US military bases in the United States.
The presenters did not mention what is done on the over 800 US military bases outside of the United States. In the one-hour military style briefing, the speakers failed to mention the incredible amounts of fossil fuels used by military aircraft, ships and land vehicles that leave mammoth carbon footprints around the world, wars that kill humans, animals and plants, military exercise bombing of entire islands and large swaths of land and the harmful effects of the burn pits which have incinerated the debris of war in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Each military service representative focused on the need for training areas to prepare the US military to "keep peace in the world." Of course, no mention was made of "keeping the peace" through wars of choice that have killed hundreds of thousands of persons, animals and plants, the bombing of the cultural heritage in many areas around the world including Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Pakistan, Libya, Yemen and Somalia.
Miranda Ballentine, Air Force Assistant Secretary for Installations, the Environment and Energy said the US Air Force has over 5,000 aircraft, more than all the airlines in the United States -- yet she never mentioned how many gallons of jet fuel are used by these aircraft, nor how many people, animals and cultural sites the aircraft have bombed. To give one some idea of the scale of the footprint of US military bases, Ballentine said the Air Force has over 160 installations, including 70 major installations covering over 9 million square miles of land, larger than the country of Switzerland. Air Force bases have 200 miles of coastland; 115 endangered on 45 installations. Incredibly, Ballentine said that due to commercial development around military bases, these bases have become "islands of conservation," that conservation takes place inside the protected base while there are larger conservation issues outside the fence lines of the bases.
Adding to the mammoth size of the military base footprint, Dr. Christine Altendorf, the regional director of the US Army's Installation Management Command of the Pacific said the US Army bases have 12.4 million acres of land, including 1.3 million acres of wetlands, 82,605 archaeological sites, 58,887 National Historical Landmarks and 223 endangered species on 118 installations.
The US Navy's briefer, a Navy Commander, added to the inventory of military equipment. He said the US Navy has 3,700 aircraft, 276 ships, including 10 aircraft carriers, 72 submarines. 70 naval installations in the United States have 4 million acres of land and 500 miles of coastline. The Navy presenter said the Navy has never heard of a marine mammal that has been harmed by US Naval vessels or acoustic experiments in the past 10 years.