End the harmful activities of the military-industrial complex by reorienting the world’s military resources toward activities that protect ecosystems and homes, support health and biodiversity, and secure access to food and water for all life.
The war industry refers to the industrial system that seeks to profit from waging war and maintaining the capacity to wage war. War is a degenerative activity because it harms life: it wounds, traumatizes, and ends human life, permanently destroys ecosystems, emits incalculable amounts of direct and indirect emissions, and costs trillions of dollars each year. Yet even as the war industry grows, enabled by arms manufacturers, defense contractors, lobbyists, and politicians seeking to profit from these degenerative activities, it ignores the greatest challenge facing our planet: climate change. The climate crisis endangers everything essential to humanity—our air, water, food, health, safety, and livelihoods. The security of our collective future can only be ensured through cooperation. Dismantling the war industry would save countless lives, dramatically lower greenhouse-gas emissions, and transform the world’s militaries into key players within the climate movement dedicated to protecting, building, and cooperating towards enhancing our future.
Learn about the war industry’s impact in places where the military operates. The war industry imposes serious environmental harms through chemical contamination of air, water, and soil, and ecosystem destruction. In addition, it causes significant societal harm such as loss of life, life-altering injuries, forced migration, and impoverishment.
- Military operations and arms production are emissions-intensive. The U.S. Department of Defense is the world’s single largest institutional oil consumer, and subsequently is also one of the largest single contributors to global warming. From 2001 to 2017 alone, U.S. military operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, and Syria produced 400 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions.
- War degrades land. Military operations in the Middle East and South and Central Asia have contaminated key water sources, disrupted wildlife habitats, and exposed hundreds of thousands of civilians and soldiers to toxic pollutants from chemical burn pits. Within the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that the Pentagon and its affiliated contractors have contaminated over 40 million acres of land through improper chemical disposal.
- The war industry has a global impact. Here are free, open-source databases that collect information on ongoing conflicts worldwide, international arms transfers, the financial data for arms companies, and the military expenditure for nearly every country in the world.
Call for action from your government. Governments play a key role not only in initiating involvement in foreign wars but also in approving yearly defense spending. By contacting your representative, you can make your voice heard about reallocated spending.
- Call your senators’ or House representative’s office to demand that they vote against increases in defense spending. You can learn more about how U.S. defense spending has increased over time and how Pentagon funding is allocated here and here.
- Ask elected officials to state their positions on your country’s defense spending and involvement in foreign wars publicly. Here is a guide on how to craft effective messages to your congressional representatives.
- Elect officials who have shown a commitment to investing in social programs. Use these scorecards for climate change mitigation, education, and civil rights.
Find out if your employer provides goods, services, or technology to your country’s defense forces. If your employer has a partnership with the military, you can start a petition to end it. You can not only exert internal pressure on company management but also call widespread attention to the role technology companies play in supporting the war industry.
- For example, at Microsoft, workers demanded the cancellation of the company’s 2019 contract with the U.S. military and called for stricter ethical guidelines regarding the use of its augmented reality technology.
- Google did not renew its Maven contract after four thousand employees petitioned against providing artificial intelligence technology to the Department of Defense.
Support movements to remedy land degradation caused by military forces. Building upon centuries of caring for the land, Indigenous peoples have led the way in restoring ecosystems damaged by military operations. Some examples include:
- In Hawai’i, Kānaka Maoli water defenders, joined by military residents and the local Sierra Club, are leading protests and demands for the U.S. Navy to remove leaking fuel tanks poisoning a major source of O’ahu’s drinking water. Sign the O’ahu Water Defenders Coalition petition, write to the Secretary of Defense, or donate here.
- Over the sixty years following the U.S. military detonation of sixty-seven nuclear bombs on the island of Rongelap, Marshallese Islanders have continued to suffer serious health issues caused by radiation poisoning, as well as devastating coral reef losses. Although the Nuclear Claims Tribunal ruled in 1988 that the U.S. government owed the Marshallese over $2 billion, it has provided neither compensation nor recognition of the continued toll of the nuclear testing on the Marshall Islands and on the U.S. servicemembers deployed to aid initial cleanup efforts. To learn more, visit the Coalition of Nuclear Justice Advocates site or the Marshall Islands’ Environmental Data Portal. Here and here are Marshallese-led organizations advocating for nuclear justice.
- In Japan, Indigenous Okinawans continue to protest against the construction of a U.S. airbase due to the impact on local forests, marine wildlife, and soil. Despite the most recent 2020 incident, in which the U.S. military contaminated the drinking water used by 450,000 people—a third of the island’s population—with PFAs, Okinawa still hosts over half the U.S. troops stationed in Japan and over 75 percent of the military bases.
Consider alternative careers to military service. In addition to increased weapons sales and military activity, the growth of the war industry also relies on increased numbers of military personnel. In 2021 alone, the U.S military recruited over 118,000 active-duty servicemembers. If you are thinking about a career in the military, consider alternative forms of service. For those concerned about the environmental impact of the war industry, here are programs focused on conservation and sustainable development:
- The Corps Network and Pathways Program provide paid terms of service for young adults and post-9/11 veterans to engage in meeting conservation and community needs throughout the United States.
- The International Voluntary Service Project is a British peace organization working for the sustainable development of local and global communities throughout the world.
Elevate journalists’ coverage of the harms caused by war. Journalists’ on-the-ground reporting plays a vital role in increasing public awareness of the human cost of war.
- Key examples of humancentric journalism include Lynsey Addario’s photo series on the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, Isobel Yeung’s coverage of the ongoing war in Yemen, and Azmat Khan’s reporting on the U.S. airstrikes in the Middle East.
Support legislation that encourages the suspension of weapons sales. The suspension of weapon sales is a key first step to stopping the defense industry in that it halts escalating arms production and prevents manufacturers from profiting further from drawn-out conflict. It would also allow for the hundreds of millions of dollars spent annually on defense contracts to be reallocated to programs that provide essential services.
- Although U.S. Congress’s joint resolution of disapproval to block the Biden administration’s proposed $650 million arms sale to Saudi Arabia was ultimately not successful, the bipartisan effort is a blueprint for future cooperative efforts to suspend weapon sales.
Advocate for carbon-reduction mandates on defense activities. Urging the military’s inclusion in climate legislation can help reduce one of the most significant sources of government emissions. In the U.S., the Department of Defense produces an estimated 56 percent of all federal emissions.
- In January 2022, twenty-eight members of Congress sent a joint letter to President Biden calling for an end to the Department of Defense’s exemption from the 2021 executive order mandating that the U.S. government achieve 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2030, net-zero emissions by 2050, and eliminate greenhouse-gas emissions from federal buildings and vehicles.
Join veterans accountability and advocacy groups. As former military employees, veterans are in a unique position to call for change from the military. Here are examples of movements founded by veterans:
- About Face is a U.S.-based organization of post-9/11 servicemembers and veterans using their knowledge and experience to share the truth about U.S. wars overseas and to advocate for an end to the policy of permanent war.
- Veterans for Peace is a global organization of military veterans and allies working to inform the public of the true costs of wars, seek justice for veterans and victims of war, and advocate for peaceful approaches to resolve conflict.
Investigate where your products or services are going. Regardless of whether they provide military equipment, companies can still indirectly contribute by participating in military supply chains. If your company's products or services are being utilized by the military or a military-held firm, consider ending or phasing out the contract.
- In July 2021, ice-cream maker Ben & Jerry’s announced that they would not be renewing their license agreement in the Occupied Palestinian Territories due to inconsistencies with the company’s values.
- In January 2022, French energy company TotalEnergies, formerly the largest shareholder of Myanmar’s Yadana natural gas project, withdrew from the country as a result of shareholder pressure and human rights abuses by the military.
- South Korean steel company POSCO C&C terminated its partnership with Myanmar Economic Holdings, a military-controlled firm, following a 2021 coup in which hundreds of Burmese protesters were killed.
Reallocate military spending toward social programs. Numerous studies have shown that social spending and climate investments have a stronger positive impact on communities’ health and well-being than defense spending. Increased military expenditure has a negative impact on economic growth worldwide and also increases associated costs related to repairing damage and providing emergency relief, and to recovering economies; it would cost a mere 1 percent of global GDP to fulfill the Paris climate agreement. Here are examples of the myriad benefits of reallocated budgets:
- After Costa Rica abolished its military in 1948 with the intention of investing the savings from defense on health and education, the country saw momentous improvements in quality of life over the next seventy years. The WHO now ranks Costa Rica’s universal health-care system as the best in Central America, and the country boasts a 98 percent literacy rate and the second-lowest infant mortality rate in Latin America. In addition, it is also one of the first countries to have reversed deforestation and to adopt a tropical carbon tax.
- The Poor People’s Campaign, inspired by the movement led by Martin Luther King Jr., has provided a detailed reimagined budget that includes $350 billion in spending cuts to the military in order to invest in improvements that would improve Americans’ lives, including water and sanitation infrastructure and a clean energy transition.
Reduce military emissions. While many countries have already outlined climate action plans to reduce emissions from government functions and infrastructure, it is essential to extend these plans to include military activities and bases. Setting ambitious goals like net-zero carbon emissions and transitioning to sustainable fuels and hybrid vehicles would help lower the military’s contributions to climate change at the speed needed to prevent the most severe climate change scenarios from occurring.
- The U.S. Army introduced a climate strategy that included plans to place renewable-powered microgrids at every installation by 2035, field an all-electric nontactical fleet by 2035, achieve a 50 percent reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions by 2030, and attain net-zero emissions by 2050.
- France, Australia, the UK, and Sweden have all introduced plans to reduce energy consumption overall as well as to transition to renewable energy by installing solar panels on military buildings and electrifying nautical fleets.
- Finland is on track to meet its target for the Ministry of Defense to heat all buildings without fossil fuels by 2025.
- The Jordanian military has planted 250,000 trees to slow the spread of desertification.
- Singapore’s military has drafted plans for hybrid vehicles and ships and constructed sustainable buildings for its equipment designed with solar panels and rainwater collection systems.
- The Japanese and South Korean militaries have set a target of meeting 25 percent of their energy needs via renewable energy by 2030 by transitioning to solar and geothermal energy.
Provide alternatives to mandatory military service. Dozens of countries around the world, including Singapore, South Korea, Eritrea, and Israel, require their citizens (in most cases, men only) to serve in the military upon turning eighteen. These countries can consider alternative pathways by which young people can serve their nations.
- Austria offers both the Voluntary Ecological Year and the Austrian Service Abroad, which includes the Holocaust Memorial, the Social Service, and the Peace Service) as alternatives to mandatory military service, while Switzerland offers a similar Swiss Civil Service. Those who object to mandatory military service in Denmark can serve instead in the Danish Emergency Management Agency or similar first-responder organizations.
Mobilize domestic defense forces to assist in relief efforts instead of combat. The military’s personnel, coordination, and resources already play a critical role in providing emergency aid in disaster-stricken areas. In the future, these resources could also be used to provide assistance to communities facing the impacts of climate change.
- Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, National Guard troops across the U.S. have been deployed to deliver masks, administer COVID-19 vaccines and tests, deliver food, and support short-staffed hospitals.
- Following a catastrophic volcanic explosion near Tonga, British and Australian navy ships mobilized to deliver essential supplies without making contact with locals.
Expand refugee resettlement programs that support migrants affected by foreign wars. In addition to the long-term harms caused by environmental damage, the post-9/11 wars have also caused an enormous loss of human life directly related to combat, with over 387,000 deaths and 38 million people displaced. Addressing the needs of the vulnerable populations affected will continue to be a vital form of accountability for the harms caused by the war industry.
- Germany has been a leader in refugee resettlement among EU nations. In December 2021, it pledged to admit twenty-five thousand at-risk Afghan refugees, over half of the total accepted by the European Union. Migration Hub, based in Berlin, is a network of social entrepreneurs and organizations collaborating to improve the lives of migrants from the Middle East and Africa. It also serves as the headquarters of a free online university designed for refugees.
- In the U.S., Refugee Council USA is a coalition of twenty-nine nongovernmental organizations, ranging from resettlement agencies to grassroots organizers, that promote efforts to protect and welcome forcibly displaced peoples as well as advocate for just immigration laws and policies.
U.S. defense contractors produce the vast majority of the world’s war equipment and weaponry; an estimated 70 percent of the arms sales among the top 10 firms worldwide are generated by U.S. firms. These firms continue to lobby the U.S. government for multibillion-dollar arms contracts each year.
- Lockheed Martin, the largest arms producer in the world, increased its sales to $67 billion in 2021 and has remained a major supplier of missiles to Saudi Arabia despite confirmation Lockheed-made missiles have been utilized in airstrikes targeting Yemeni civilians. Jim Taiclet is the president and CEO. His LinkedIn profile is here.
- Raytheon Technologies has agreed to provide 280 missiles and 656 missile launchers to Saudi Arabia as part of the United States’ first arms sale to Saudi Arabia, worth 650 million dollars. Gregory J. Hayes is the CEO and chairman of the board. His LinkedIn profile is here.
- Northrop Grumman remains one of the top five international arms suppliers. Kathy Warden is the president and CEO. Her LinkedIn profile is here.
Campaigns and Movements
Win Without War (U.S.) promotes a national security strategy that prioritizes human security and diplomacy over war.
Accord (South Africa) brings conflict resolution, dialogue, and development to the forefront throughout Africa as an alternative to protracted conflict.
Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, an international nonprofit institute dedicated to research into conflict, armaments, arms control, and disarmament.
Peace Research Institute Oslo, conducts research on the conditions for peaceful relations between states, groups, and people.
Asian Peace Programme (Singapore), strives to improve the prospects of peace in Asia.
Peace Research Institute Frankfurt carries out research into the conditions necessary for peace and working to spread the concept of peace.
Toda Peace Institute (Japan)
David Vine, professor and writer
Neta C. Crawford – professor and writer
Lynsey Addario, photojournalist
Isobel Yeung, documentary correspondent
Azmat Khan, war correspondent
War: How Conflict Shaped Us by Margaret Macmillan
“How Google Could Help End War” by John Horgan
Pentagon Fuel Use, Climate Change, and the Costs of War by Neta. C Crawford
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