Social Justice Australia

Environmental Impact of U.S. Military Actions

Environmental Impact of U.S. Military Actions.


Explore the environmental impact of U.S. military actions and how we can reduce their impact on our planet.


The United States military has a long history of engaging in wars of aggression, which have had catastrophic consequences for both human lives and the environment. While the human cost of war is often discussed, the environmental impact of these conflicts is often overlooked. This article delves into the significant pollution and environmental destruction caused by U.S. military actions and explores how we can mitigate these impacts. We will also examine the environmental impact of Australia’s military to provide a broader perspective on military-related environmental issues.

The Environmental Toll of Military Actions

Pollution from Military Vehicles and Weapons

One of the most significant environmental impacts of U.S. wars is the pollution caused by military vehicles and weapons. The U.S. military is the largest consumer of oil in the world, primarily using it to fuel tanks, planes, and other military vehicles. This massive consumption of fossil fuels results in substantial air pollution and contributes significantly to global climate change.

Air and Water Pollution

The use of military vehicles and weapons releases toxic chemicals into the air and water. Bombs, missiles, and other explosives have devastating effects on the environment, dispersing harmful substances, and contaminating natural resources. These pollutants can persist in the environment for years, causing long-term damage to ecosystems. For example, the combustion of fossil fuels in military vehicles releases carbon dioxide (CO2), a major greenhouse gas, as well as other pollutants like sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), and particulate matter. These emissions contribute to smog, acid rain, and respiratory issues in humans and animals.

Impact on Natural Habitats

The destructive power of military weapons not only pollutes the environment but also causes direct damage to forests, wildlife, and other natural habitats. The explosion of bombs and missiles can obliterate large areas of vegetation and disrupt the lives of countless animal species. For instance, deforestation caused by bombing can lead to soil erosion, loss of biodiversity, and changes in local climate patterns. The habitat destruction can push endangered species closer to extinction and reduce the ability of ecosystems to recover naturally.

Environmental Destruction by Weapons

Long-Term Environmental Damage

Environmental damage of war.

Weapons used in military conflicts cause more than immediate destruction; they have lasting environmental impacts. The toxic chemicals released during explosions can seep into the soil and groundwater, affecting plant and animal life for generations. The presence of unexploded ordnance also poses a continual threat to local communities and ecosystems. For example, remnants of depleted uranium (DU) munitions used in conflicts can contaminate soil and water, posing health risks to humans and wildlife due to their radioactive and toxic properties.

Depletion of Natural Resources

The destruction caused by military actions often leads to the depletion of natural resources. Forests are burned, water sources are contaminated, and wildlife populations are decimated. These effects can be irreversible, leading to a permanent loss of biodiversity. For instance, the destruction of mangrove forests during coastal bombardments can end critical habitats for fish and other marine species, impacting local fisheries and economies. The loss of forests and wetlands also reduces the Earth’s ability to absorb CO2, worsening climate change.

Infrastructure Destruction and Its Environmental Impact

Bombing of Cities and Towns

The bombing of urban areas causes extensive damage to buildings, roads, and other infrastructure. This destruction releases hazardous materials and pollutants into the environment. The collapse of industrial buildings can lead to the spread of toxic substances such as asbestos, heavy metals, and chemicals. For example, the bombing of chemical plants or factories can release hazardous chemicals into the air and water, creating toxic environments that are unsafe for human habitation and wildlife.

Environmental Contamination

The rubble and debris left behind by destroyed infrastructure contribute to environmental contamination. Pollutants from damaged buildings can leach into the soil and water, affecting local ecosystems and human health. The clean-up process is often slow and expensive, prolonging the environmental impact of the conflict. For instance, the presence of lead, mercury, and other heavy metals in the debris can contaminate groundwater supplies, posing long-term health risks to local populations. The removal and disposal of contaminated rubble also require significant resources and can generate more environmental issues.

Impact of Military Bases and Training on Ecosystems

Land Use and Habitat Destruction

Military bases and training facilities require large tracts of land, often leading to the destruction of local ecosystems. The construction and operation of these bases can disrupt wildlife habitats, displace animal populations, and degrade the natural landscape. For example, the establishment of military bases in pristine areas can lead to deforestation, soil compaction, and the destruction of wetlands, which are crucial for water purification and flood control. The presence of military personnel and equipment can also lead to increased human-wildlife conflicts and the introduction of invasive species.

Pollution from Training Exercises

Military training exercises often involve the use of live ammunition, heavy machinery, and other activities that can pollute the environment. The discharge of chemicals, fuels, and other hazardous substances during training can contaminate the air, soil, and water, posing risks to both the environment and nearby communities. For example, the use of live ammunition can result in the accumulation of heavy metals like lead and copper in the soil, affecting plant growth and soil health. The runoff from training areas can carry pollutants into nearby rivers and lakes, affecting aquatic ecosystems and drinking water supplies.

Environmental Impact of Australia’s Military

Australia’s Military Activities and Environmental Impact

Australian and US Military Bases.
Australian and US Military Bases.


Australia’s military, like the U.S., has a significant environmental footprint. The Australian Defence Force (ADF) runs numerous bases and conducts regular training exercises, both domestically and internationally. These activities can have substantial environmental impacts, including habitat destruction, pollution, and resource depletion.

Habitat Destruction and Land Use

The establishment and expansion of military bases in Australia have led to the destruction of natural habitats. For instance, the expansion of the Shoalwater Bay Training Area in Queensland has raised concerns about the impact on local ecosystems, including mangroves, wetlands, and endangered species. Military exercises often involve the use of heavy vehicles and artillery, which can cause soil erosion, compaction, and disruption of vegetation.

Pollution from Training Exercises

Australian military training exercises, particularly those involving live ammunition and explosives, can lead to environmental pollution. The use of munitions releases heavy metals and other toxic substances into the environment, which can contaminate soil and water sources. For example, the contamination of groundwater with per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS)  from firefighting foams used at military bases has been a significant environmental issue in Australia, affecting local communities and ecosystems.

Efforts to Mitigate Environmental Impact

The Australian government and the ADF have made efforts to mitigate the environmental impact of military activities . Initiatives include environmental management plans, habitat restoration projects, and the implementation of sustainable practices. For example, the ADF has undertaken projects to rehabilitate areas affected by military exercises and to monitor the environmental health of military training areas. Additionally, there are ongoing efforts to phase out the use of PFAS-containing firefighting foams and to remediate contaminated sites.


The U.S. and Australian militaries have had significant environmental impacts through their activities. Pollution from military vehicles and weapons, the destruction of infrastructure, and the environmental damage caused by military bases and training exercises have all contributed to significant environmental degradation. Recognizing the environmental cost of war is essential, and steps must be taken to reduce the impact of military conflicts on our planet. This includes adopting more sustainable military practices, investing in clean-up and restoration efforts, and prioritizing environmental protection in military strategies.

Call to Action

Educate yourself about the environmental consequences of warfare and advocate for policies that prioritize environmental protection in military strategies. Support organizations and initiatives that work towards peace and the rehabilitation of war-affected environments. By raising awareness and pushing for change, we can help mitigate the environmental impact of military actions and work towards a more sustainable future.

Reader Questions

1. How can we, as global citizens, contribute to minimizing the environmental impact of military conflicts?
2. What policies can governments implement to reduce the environmental footprint of military activities?
3. How can the military adopt more sustainable practices to protect the environment?

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Help spread awareness about the environmental impact of military actions. Share this article with your contacts and on social media!


“How War Impacts Climate Change and the Environment.” Global Citizen.
“The Environmental Impact of the Gulf War 1991.” International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.
“The Environmental Consequences of War: Legal, Economic, and Scientific Perspectives.” Cambridge University Press. 2007.
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