Low-Carbon Warfare

Low-Carbon Warfare

These days, threats don’t just come from other states.1Erin Sikorsky, ‘The World’s Militaries Aren’t Ready for Climate Change’, Foreign Policy, 22 September 2022, https://foreignpolicy.com/2022/09/22/militaries-climate-change-security-threats-strategy-floods-fires/. The quotes in this piece (and it’s all quotes) are drawn from various genres of writing on war and the environment: conflict scholarship, news analysis, thinktank reckons, military press releases, industry blogs, activist publications, arms manufacturers’ corporate sustainability reports, and more.

With nature itself acting as an adversarial agent threatening international and domestic tranquility, new national security concepts and capabilities will be demanded.2Ronald D. Perkel, ‘Climate Changing Minds: Reintroducing Climate Change into National Security’ (master’s thesis, National Defense University, 2021), 50, https://apps.dtic.mil/sti/trecms/pdf/AD1154003.pdf.

The existential threat has grown faster than I had imagined.3Peter Handel, ‘We Must Reckon with the Most Dangerous System of Extinction Humans Ever Created’, Truthout, 30 December 2023, https://truthout.org/articles/we-must-reckon-with-the-most-dangerous-system-of-extinction-humans-ever-created/.

Climate change is already disrupting the military.4Patrick Tucker, ‘Climate Change Is Already Disrupting the Military. It Will Get Worse, Officials Say’, Defense One, 10 August 2021, https://www.defenseone.com/technology/2021/08/climate-change-already-disrupting-military-it-will-get-worse-officials-say/184416/.

Embracing low-carbon warfare may be the only way to respond.5Duncan Depledge, ‘Low-Carbon Warfare: Climate Change, Net Zero and Military Operations’, International Affairs 99, no. 2 (March 2023): 675, https://doi.org/10.1093/ia/iiad001.

In future years, it is highly likely that military technologies will be developed that help to reduce the carbon ‘bootprint’ of armies.6Leo Hickman, ‘Laser-Powered Drones and Hybrid Tanks Could Cut Military’s Carbon “Bootprint”’, The Guardian, 21 April 2011, https://www.theguardian.com/environment/blog/2011/apr/21/military-carbon-saving-laser-hybrid.

‘Green’ militaries will swap out a fossil fuel–powered fighter jet with a death plane that flies on vegetable juice or dead animal fat, and pat themselves on the back for being carbon neutral.7Hannah Sharland, ‘Militaries and Arms Companies Can Reduce Emissions, but You Can’t Greenwash an Industry of Mass Murder and Destruction’, The Canary, 21 July 2023, https://www.thecanary.co/editorial/2023/07/20/militaries-and-arms-companies-can-reduce-emissions-but-you-cant-greenwash-an-industry-of-mass-murder-and-destruction/.

Can that which kills, maims, and destroys also be ecofriendly? The answer is ‘yes’.8Leora Broydo, ‘Green Killing Machines’, Mother Jones, March/April 1998, https://www.motherjones.com/politics/1998/03/green-killing-machines/.

This might not sit well with those environmentalists who are instinctively repulsed by the ‘military-industrial complex’, but history teaches us that many technological advances have been born under the shadow of war.9Hickman, ‘Laser-Powered Drones’.

Let’s dive into some of the most exciting developments.10‘‘Advancements in Energy Storage for Portable Military Equipment’, Energy5, 18 December 2023, https://energy5.com/advancements-in-energy-storage-for-portable-military-equipment (accessed on 26 January 2024; site inactive on 16 April 2024).

A solar-powered Army drone has been flying for 40 days straight.11Rob Verger, ‘A Solar-Powered Army Drone Has Been Flying for 40 Days Straight’, Popular Science, 25 July 2022, https://www.popsci.com/technology/army-zephyr-drone-sets-records/.

We are entering a new era of submarine construction.12‘The Submarine Revolution: Lithium-Ion Battery System for a Better Performance’, ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems, 15 October 2019, https://www.thyssenkrupp-marinesystems.com/en/teaser/the-submarine-revolution–lithium-ion-battery-system-for-a-better-performance. The emerging Li-ion battery technology can be a ‘game changer in the underwater domain’.13Lee Willett, ‘Li-Ion Batteries Are Underwater “Game Changer”, Says U212 NFS Progamme Manager’, Naval News, 1 June 2023, https://www.navalnews.com/event-news/cne-2023/2023/06/li-ion-batteries-are-underwater-game-changer-says-u212-nfs-progamme-manager/. The battery tech in your smartphone finally goes to sea.14Kyle Mizokami, ‘Introducing Japan’s Lithium Ion Battery-Powered Submarine’, Popular Mechanics, 14 November 2019, https://www.popularmechanics.com/military/navy-ships/a29798485/japan-lithium-ion-submarine/.

Innovative transportation technologies are being considered as a way to reduce reliance on single-occupancy vehicles on military bases.15‘Applying Innovative Transportation Technologies on Military Installations’, National Defense Transportation Association, 1 April 2020, https://www.ndtahq.com/applying-innovative-transportation-technologies-on-military-installations/.

LEDs have already been installed on more than 170 Navy ships.16‘SECNAV Directs Navy to Expand Use of LEDs’, United States Navy, 13 April 2015, https://www.navy.mil/Press-Office/Press-Releases/display-pressreleases/Article/2262340/secnav-directs-navy-to-expand-use-of-leds/. Recessed LED fixtures, reading and berth lights with integrated on/off touch dimmable control, table lights for living quarters, cabins, mess rooms.17Navy Ships LED Light Fixtures: Innovative and Future Proof, AtiLed, Fabas Luce SpA, 2019, 2, https://naval.atiled.it/catalogo/FABAS-ATILED-naval-led-light-fixtures-April-2019.pdf.

The Pentagon wants spent ammunition and casings to contain bioengineered seeds that would, after several months, grow environmentally friendly plants that would remove soil contaminants.18Kyle Mizokami, ‘The Military Wants Biodegradable Ammo That Turns into Plants’, Popular Mechanics, 11 January 2017, https://www.popularmechanics.com/military/research/a24690/us-military-biodegradable-ammo/.

Supporting firefighters and other people dealing with natural disasters is satisfying work for a lot of troops.19Tucker, ‘Climate Change Is Already Disrupting the Military’.

Vegan soldiers are filing complaints against the armed forces due to lack of plant-based food options and cruelty-free uniforms.20Liam Gilliver, ‘Vegan Soldiers File Complaints Against Armed Forces Over Lack of Plant-Based Options’, Plant Based News, 13 May 2021, https://plantbasednews.org/culture/ethics/vegan-soldier-armed-forces-plant-based-options/.

The new and improved Tomahawk missile now runs on corn.21‘The New and Improved Tomahawk Missile Now Runs on Corn’, Advanced Biofuels USA, 30 May 2020, https://advancedbiofuelsusa.info/the-new-and-improved-tomahawk-missile-now-runs-on-corn/.

An algae-powered Navy ship? Maybe.22‘Searching for Fuel Alternatives’, Currents: The Navy’s Environmental Magazine, Fall 2009, 52, https://p2infohouse.org/ref/49/48817.pdf.

Laser-charged infantry.23‘How to Cut the British Army’s Carbon “Bootprint”’, Institution of Mechanical Engineers, 21 April 2011, https://www.imeche.org/news/news-article/11-04-21/How_to_cut_the_British_Army_s_carbon_bootprint.aspx.

I love green tanks.24Celestine Schorlemer, ‘Beyond the “Green Tanks”: The Hidden Nexus of War and Climate Policy at COP28’, United Against Inhumanity, 8 December 2023, https://www.against-inhumanity.org/2023/12/08/beyond-the-green-tanks/.

And more, much more is still to come.25David S. Alberts, Information Age Transformation: Getting to a 21st Century Military, Information Age Transformation Series, Command and Control Research Program, Department of Defense, 1996, 32, https://apps.dtic.mil/sti/tr/pdf/ADA457904.pdf.

Some scholars say the only green military is a smaller one.26Alejandro de la Garza, ‘To Take Climate Change Seriously, the U.S. Military Needs to Shrink’, Time, 17 February 2022, https://time.com/6148778/us-military-climate-change/. We say that ‘quality and service aren’t just words’. Request a quote on military hardware.27‘Military Hardware’, B&B Electro-Mechanical Components, Inc., n.d., https://www.bbeminc.com/military-hardware.

Popular discourse is largely primitive and backwards when it comes to the politics of climate change.28Michael Busch, ‘Interview with Christian Parenti’, Foreign Policy in Focus, 29 September 2011, https://fpif.org/interview_with_christian_parenti/.

When I first heard of ‘environmentally friendly weapons’, it struck me as a mind-boggling paradox to place environmental care next to the means of war.29Nico Edwards, ‘Selling War Amid Climate Change’, Inkstick, 19 May 2023, https://inkstickmedia.com/selling-war-amid-climate-change/.

And yet, progress is being made.30Airbus Summit 2022: The Flight Path Towards Greater Sustainability, Airbus, 2022, 12, https://www.airbus.com/sites/g/files/jlcbta136/files/2023-03/Airbus%20Summit%202022%20-%20Proceedings.pdf.

The green turn in military policy communicates a simple message: that such a thing as environmentally sustainable warfare exists.31Edwards, ‘Selling War Amid Climate Change’.

The cliché of the environment as a silent victim of conflict didn’t feel like something that we should just take for granted.32Doug Weir, ‘How New Technologies Can Create Change Through Story Telling’, Conflict and Environment Observatory, 20 September 2023, https://ceobs.org/commentary-who-cares-about-the-environment-in-war/.

Human bodies being naturally biodegradable is not an argument for more war.33Ilan Kelman, ‘Eco-Weaponry’, Millennium Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere, 8 August 2012, https://mahb.stanford.edu/recentnews/eco-weaponry/.

Carbon neutral isn’t morally neutral.34Sharland, ‘Militaries and Arms Companies’.

We understand.35Corporate Social Responsibility Report, 2007, Northrup Grumman, 2007, 5, https://cdn.prd.ngc.agencyq.site/-/media/wp-content/uploads/2007-noc-csr-report.pdf.

It’s a good start, but we are committed to doing much more.36Boeing 2008 Environmental Report, Boeing, 2008, 28, https://www.boeing.com/content/dam/boeing/boeingdotcom/principles/environment/pdf/2008_environment_report.pdf.

We are committed to a pro-active policy of corporate social responsibility.37‘Corporate Social Responsibility’, Dassault Aviation, n.d., https://www.dassault-aviation.com/en/group/about-us/corporate-social-responsibility/.

We are committed to minimising the impact of our worldwide operations.38‘Committed to Minimising Environmental Impact’, BAE Systems, 5 June 2017, https://www.baesystems.com/en/blog/commitment-to-minimising-environmental-impact.

We are committed to delivering value to all stakeholders by driving excellence in environmental sustainability.39‘L3Harris Technologies Publishes Inaugural Sustainability Report’, L3Harris Technologies, 15 March 2021, https://www.l3harris.com/newsroom/press-release/2021/03/l3harris-technologies-publishes-inaugural-sustainability-report.

Are you a member of a community disproportionately impacted by militarism and climate change? Contact us and we’ll work to help amplify your voice.40Lorah Steichen and Lindsay Koshgarian, No Warming, No War: How Militarism Fuels the Climate Crisis—and Vice Versa, National Priorities Project at the Institute for Policy Studies, 2020, 37, https://www.jstor.org/stable/resrep28827.

The climate apocalypse will make the military-industrial complex busier, and more profitable, than ever.41Jasper Craven, ‘Greenwashing the Military-Industrial Complex’, The Baffler, 1 October 2021, https://thebaffler.com/latest/greenwashing-the-military-industrial-complex-craven.

In essence, solving the problem of sustainability and war requires a focus upon ethics—both individual and social.42Peter Denton, ‘Sustainability, Ethics and War’, Canadian Military Journal 17, no. 3 (Summer 2017): 62, http://www.journal.forces.gc.ca/Vol17/no3/PDF/CMJ173Ep61.pdf.

We believe we’re better together.43‘Clean Energy’, Amentum, n.d., https://www.amentum.com/what-we-do/clean-energy/.

We believe doing what’s right and holding ourselves and others accountable is the only way to do business.44The Future Can’t Wait: 2020 Environmental, Social, Governance (ESG) Impact Report, Booz Allen Hamilton, 2020, 15, https://www.boozallen.com/content/dam/boozallen_site/esg/pdf/publications/esg-impact-report-2020.pdf.

Erik Kennedy

Erik Kennedy (he/him) is the author of the poetry collections Another Beautiful Day Indoors (2022) and There's No Place Like the Internet in Springtime (2018), both with Te Herenga Waka University Press, and he co-edited No Other Place to Stand, a book of climate change poetry from New Zealand and the Pacific (Auckland University Press, 2022). His poems, stories, and criticism have been published in places like berlin lit, FENCE, The Florida Review, Los Angeles Review of Books, Poetry, Poetry Ireland Review, Poetry Salzburg Review, the TLS, and Western Humanities Review. Originally from New Jersey, he lives in Ōtautahi Christchurch in Aotearoa New Zealand.

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