Memorial Day honors soldiers who died while serving in the US Armed Forces. Millions have made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of democracy and freedom . In the revolutionary war, they fell fighting the tyranny of British Rule, in the Civil War they fell trying to free slaves from the scourge of slavery, In World War ll they fell liberating Europe from Nazi despotism, and in the pacific, they fell fighting imperial Japan.
Now the US faces a different threat, one that is coming from within. The former president’s coup attempt and the insurrection he led on the Capital Building are assaults on democracy from within the halls of power. Now the GOP is trying to subvert democracy through voter suppression laws in Republican-controlled state legislatures across the country. The former Republican president is known for having disseminated both climate and COVID disinformation. His handling of the pandemic is a lot like his handling of climate change. After dismissing the virus as a hoax he failed to support efforts that could have prevented the deaths of thousands of Americans. Both Trump and the GOP also refuse to acknowledge that climate change is a threat to civilization.
Their view is not shared by the US military which sees climate change as a threat for a number of reasons including its connection to mass migrations and armed conflict. According to a 2019 report, four degrees Celsius of warming could increase conflict five-fold. Rather than acknowledge the facts, the Trump administration sought to bury government climate reports. They ignored the climate consensus shared by all the branches of the US armed forces. They ignored government reports that say climate change is a security threat as well as a warning issued by the U.N. In 2019 the administration shut down the US Navy task force on climate change.
Despite Trump,, the Department of Defense (DoD) continued to work towards the goal of reducing its massive footprint. The military is the US government’s largest fossil fuel consumer, accounting for almost 80 percent of all federal government energy consumption since 2001. In 2016, the Defense Department consumed about 86 million barrels of fuel for operational purposes alone. This translates to a larger carbon footprint than 100 countries combined. From 2001 through 2017, the DoD emitted 1.2 billion metric tons of greenhouse gases. If the US military were a country, it would be the world’s 55th largest greenhouse gas emitter.
To shrink its footprint the DoD has reduced its use of fossil fuels and is weatherizing its buildings. It is also increasingly relying on renewable energy. The DoD’s total annual emissions declined from 85 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) in 2004 to 59 million metric tons CO2e in 2017. Reducing dependence on fossil fuels is as much about battlefield capabilities as it is about reducing emissions. Fossil fuel supply lines are vulnerable in a war zone, thus the ability to generate energy on the battlefield through technologies like solar offer a strategic advantage that can help mitigate this risk. The military’s vulnerability to climate change was driven home when Offutt Air Force base in Nebraska was flooded in 2019. Other bases have also been hit by climate-related disasters, this includes Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in North Carolina (Hurricane Florence) and Tyndall Air Force Base in the Florida (Hurricane Michael).
We do not honor the fallen by ignoring the facts, we do not honor the fallen by ignoring the risks. When we do anything less than embrace science and condemn authoritarianism we are not honoring the millions of soldiers who died to protect America’s democracy from tyranny. Memorial Day originally honored soldiers who lost their lives in the Civil War, a conflict that killed hundreds of thousands of Americans, a war that was fought in part to end the scourge of slavery. This year Memorial Day also coincides with the centennial of the savage tragedy known as the Tulsa Race Massacre. On this day one hundred years ago as many as 300 people were killed when the Black community of Greenwood was burned to the ground by a white mob. It has been just a bit more than a year since the murder of George Floyd and the struggle to pass legislation designed to combat systemic racism is being opposed by the same party that supports the Big Lie.
While it is convenient to blame both sides of the political divide, this is a ruse. Republicans have embraced a policy of thinly veiled racism, wielding disinformation to delay climate action and justify voter suppression. U.S. armed forces are charged with protecting Americans from attacks from foreign adversaries, however, today some of the most serious threats come from within. In this context, the best way to honor the fallen may be to ensure that we continue to defend what they fought and died for.