Ticking Time Bomb

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It is accepted that a single B-52 bomber burns 12,000 litres of jet fuel an hour while an F-15 fighter goes through 7,000 litres, figures “comparable to the consumption of an average family car in a whole decade”.

Not surprisingly, one recent academic study described the US defence forces as “one of the largest polluters in history, consuming more liquid fuels and emitting more climate-changing gases than most medium-sized countries”.

In 2017 alone, the US military bought an astonishing 269,230 barrels of oil a day, producing more than 25,000 kilotonnes of carbon dioxide through their use.

In periods of geopolitical tension, such dizzying figures climb higher, as rival power blocs invest in more equipment and deploy it more often. It is estimated that between 10 and 15% of American emissions during the cold war could be attributed to the military.

That’s because war – and the prospect of war – normalises environmentally destructive practices unthinkable in other contexts.

Think of Vietnam and how the US forces deliberately sprayed some 70m litres of herbicide on forests, in an effort to destroy the cover that the North Vietnamese relied upon.

Think of the first Gulf War and the use of depleted uranium in about 340 tonnes of missiles launched into Iraq.

Today, China possesses up to 350 nuclear weapons. The US has perhaps 5,800. The deployment of any of them would take the global environmental crisis into new realms of horror.

As we approach Cop26, we should remember that most of the carbon ever generated by humanity was released after the Kyoto summit, a conference at which the world’s politicians solemnly pledged that emissions would be cut.

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