The environmental cost of war

With the military strikes in Gaza receiving support from U.S. forces, it’s time to talk about war and how it's impacting our planet and its people.

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

(Note: We are trying our best to balance being lighthearted and gentle with the subject matter of this heavy topic. If you have any constructive feedback or thoughts, please reach out with kindness at team@soapboxproject.org.)

Declarations of bombing Iran and the invasion of Ukraine have been two high-profile incidents in the past few years. Now, with the military strikes in Gaza receiving support from U.S. forces, it’s time to talk about war. 

Here’s what we’ll cover step-by-step: 

  1. READ: How is the U.S. Department of Defense harming our planet? 
  2. WATCH: Is war a part of human nature?
  3. ACT: How can we overcome despair during times of war?
  4. REFLECT: How can we process our grief?

Before we go on: remember that it’s just as valid to consume this content as it is to go outside and take a walk. A better planet can’t happen if you’re not here and well. Click out of this action pack if it doesn't serve you right now. 

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Headshot of Ash Borkar (a woman with glasses and a cardigan)
"The info is always timely, actionable, and never stale." - Aishwarya Borkar, Change.org
Headshot of Meghan Mehta speaking at Google with a microphone in her hand
"Making social change always felt so overwhelming until I started reading this newsletter." - Meghan Mehta, Google

The environmental impact of the U.S. Department of Defense

🎯 Action step 1 of 4: READ — Let's start by looking at a few articles together.

Acts of war, especially ones committed by the U.S. government, are harming our planet and its people. In learning more, we want to encourage you to support two non-traditional projects we love: HEATED, a newsletter by climate journalist Emily Atkin, and Frame, an immersive news media publication.


1️⃣ HEATED’s 2020 article, “The Climate Cost of War”

The full article is for paid subscribers of HEATED. We highly encourage you to sign up (the free content is excellent, too). We’ve included some direct quotes below if you don’t want to invest in a paid tier yet. You can explore the linked primary sources instead. 


You’ll learn that: 

  • 💀 The United States military is disproportionately causing climate devastation. “[The U.S. military is] in fact, the single biggest polluter on the planet, and the single largest consumer of energy in the United States. If the Department of Defense were a country, it would have been the 55th largest greenhouse gas emitter in 2017—more than Portugal, Denmark or Sweden. Since 2001, it’s emitted 1.2 billion metric tons of carbon, or as much as 257 million cars per year.”
  • 🤫 The military gets to be real sneaky about this dirty work. As Common Dreams rightly notes, ‘We haven’t counted the massive carbon footprint of America’s endless wars because military emissions abroad have a blanket exemption from both national reporting requirements and the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change.’” Is our military seriously a blanket exemption? That’s the least coziest thing we’ve ever heard.
  • 🍞 If the United States continues to demonstrate climate inaction (or in the case of war, active doom), we are all going to get real toasty. 🍞Emily Atkin says, “It’s not just the literal atmosphere—it’s the political one, too.” She wrote this article in 2020 under the Trump Administration, but alas this still applies: ”It makes sense why a nationalistic, conflict-ridden political environment would be a planetary death-knell. The solution to global warming has to be global. Countries have to work together toward the shared goal of a livable climate for all. They have to share technologies and solutions. This does not happen when we’re spending trillions of dollars blowing each other up. It certainly does not happen in the 10 year time frame it needs to happen in.”

2️⃣ From Frame’s Undercovered series on “The Secret Polluter” ⬅️

You have the option to explore Frame’s journalism on your own. They’ve got a great mobile experience and it’s a (dare we say) almost fun way to experience the news.

Does war have a role in the future we want to live in?  Does it really have to be the be-all and end-all solution to all problems? We’ll explore more below. 

🏁 Checkpoint: This is the end of action step 1 of 4: READ.

Is war a part of human nature?

🎯 Action step 2 of 4: LISTEN — we'll watch a short video or listen to a podcast to further expand on our topic.

Learning about the environmental impact of the United States military leaves us with a lot of questions. The biggest ones are: Why does humanity turn to war? Is it natural? Can we avoid it and is there a reality in which this works?

The following video covers an interesting concept called demographic homogeneity. 

You’ll learn that:

  • 💨 War is more dangerous for regular folks than ever before. ~90% of casualties in modern warfare are civilians. Thanks humanity-ending technology, we love you for that! 
  • 📖 Studies that have been cited to demonstrate humans’ propensity for violence may be based on false or misunderstood premises. For example, skeletons of cavemen with skull damage were interpreted as evidence of human-on-human violence, but it might just be archeological decay. Who knew!
  • 🌎 Human beings may have lived in relative harmony with the natural world and with each other for most of our time on the planet. Many of us believe that war is inevitable, but what if it’s not?
  • 🏛️ The assumption of war as a natural reality is very important to question. If we believe war is natural, why should we prevent, reduce, or abolish it? Why question empire and violence? Why ask questions that keep us up at night? 

Our favorite quote from the video

Human beings are creative and adaptive enough to find non-violent solutions to problems, such as soliciting a friendly mediator, talking things out, or my favorite tactic, simply running the **** away from the angry guy holding the club.There is power in the stories we tell. There is power in how we see ourselves. You may feel helpless in the grand scheme of war things. But what if you asked yourself: how much of your helplessness is real? What can you change?

We’ll guide you on some possible answers to the many questions that might be living rent-free in your head. 

🏁 Checkpoint: This is the end of action step 2 of 4: LISTEN.

Gentle actions you can take to overcome despair

🎯 Action step 3 of 4: ACT — Now it's time to do something. Let's go!

We felt ourselves moving into a better place of grace and action when we received an from Valarie Kaur: How can you be brave with your grief? 

In the beginning of her email, she says the following:

To all who are grieving right now: You are not alone. Our hearts are breaking in the face of the unspeakable. We mourn the 1,400 people killed in Israel on Oct 7th. We ache for the safe return of the 240+ hostages captured, 30 of them children. We mourn the 11,000 people killed in Palestine since then, 4,500 of them children. We have never seen children massacred on this scale, this efficiently, in our lifetime. It overwhelms the senses; it is hard to resist despair.

It is hard to resist despair, yes. And she continues: each of us has a role we can play.

So, if you are grieving the cost of war—the loss of humanity, the environmental destruction, the [all the terrible things]—try to breathe through this action pack. We promise some of the following actions will be gentle enough to access even if you feel like you have nothing left to give.

"There are more of us than them. More of us who want a world of peaceful co-existence than ash. More of us who know in our bones that justice and liberation and peace run together. Millions of us. And we are co-creating the world with every choice, every breath, every action..." - Valarie Kaur.
Artwork: https://www.instagram.com/radicistudios/

Remember to breathe as you read this and as you go about your day. Also, most of these actions are good during non-war, so tuck these resources in a safe place for later too.

1. Find time, space, and community to grieve and rage. 

As Valarie Kaur said in her email, “Do not isolate. When we grieve together, we can alchemize our pain into energy and action.” The “do not isolate thing” is HARD for many of us. We live in an isolated society. Here is one example that may help you find connection. There are many ways to grieve together: protests, vigils, 1:1 conversations with your friends…

2. Prioritize healthy media habits. 

We cannot watch atrocities being committed on our phone screens and expect to have energy left over to be in community. There is a difference between “staying informed” and staying in fight-or-flight because of the content we’re consuming. Everything in this world demands our attention. As you’re thinking about your media habits, you can ask yourself where you want to put your time, energy, and attention right now.

3. Support a ceasefire in the Middle East as a daily practice. 

It gives us a little bit of peace that there are millions of people around the world calling for a ceasefire. Here is a toolkit you can use if you live in the United States. Our favorite part about this is the tip that you can call after-hours and leave a voicemail, which they must count in their system. The toolkit also has graphics you can share on social media. Introvert-friendly, yay! 🌻

4. Create different narratives AKA no more war movies. 

Think about what you’ve normalized and what you can do to change that, ESPECIALLY if you are pursuing a creative project. What do you talk about with your friends? What shows do you watch? What can you challenge?

5. Divert your taxpayer money from supporting war.

Here’s a time-sensitive action for U.S. based-people. One of our Soapbox community members, Kriselle, made this video on how to support the Ceasefire Now Resolution.

6. Learn how to process grief. 

Whether you are grieving something that directly affects you in this moment or not, this grief portal is an extraordinary resource. We are not really equipped to navigate grief in this hellscape, but we can reclaim our emotions and learn to work on them together. The Guided Inquiry section in the portal has questions like “Where do you notice feeling grief in your body?” These are questions that we are trained out of asking, but that are so important to our shared future.

Donate to aid. Go to the vigil. Organize the vigil. Make art. Make music. Go to the teach-in. Host the teach in. Post. Don't post. Meditate. March. Make a container for grief. Another for rage. Talk to children. Tell stories of peace builders. Study liberation. Pray. Kiss the earth. Look at the stars. Call the ancestors. Learn the names of the dead children. Make an altar for them. Bring people together. Feed them. Light candles. Sing songs. Give freely. Start an authentic exchange with someone who is willing to do the same. Be silent. Speak. Then be silent again. Rest. -  Valarie Kaur
Artwork by https://www.instagram.com/radicistudios/

These actions are equipping us to re-find our place and our voice; I hope they will gently encourage you too. 💚

🏁 Checkpoint: This is the end of action step 3 of 4: ACT.

How to process your grief

Before we go any further, it's time for you to pledge your commitment. It takes less than 30 seconds to pledge and we can bother you about it in a friendly way, so we can hold each other accountable. Pledge here!

🎯 Action step 4 of 4: REFLECT — what can you commit to? What fresh perspectives can we look at?

Reflect by finding a soul-nourishing activity that helps you navigate the emotional heaviness of war. Share with a friend.

Here are a few more tidbits we’ve collected:

  • 🎵 A healing song. We listened to We Rise by Batya Levine on repeat this week after hearing it at a Jewish Voice for Peace protest.
  • 🫂 Actions that make a difference.  Around the world, people have been organizing together to put pressure on global leaders to support a ceasefire in the Middle East. We can never isolate exactly which actions lead to exactly which outcomes, but the momentum we're creating through sustained pressure is no coincidence. 
  • ❤️ Days of remembrance for people who have passed away. One of our Soapbox members recently hosted a gathering to remember loved ones who are no longer with us. It is so special to have spaces where grief can just exist. Many cultures around the world have customs like Dia de los Muertos and we find hope in practices like these that build resilience and community. Our founder, Nivi, also attended a vigil for World Day of Remembrance for road traffic victims. They honored their neighbors who have been killed on Seattle streets. Coming together in a setting like this is a powerful momentum builder. (You can read about it in The Seattle Times.)
  • 🧩 A precious puzzle piece analogy. ​If you attend the EarthCorps Global Learning Summit next month, you will meet the incredible Denise McDermott, a psychotherapist that talks about climate anxiety and joy. She shares this analogy that building a better world is a billion piece jigsaw puzzle. We all have our piece. The most important thing you need to do is take care of your piece. If it's raggedy or you can't find it or the edges are frayed, the other pieces can't connect to it.

As we end this action pack on the environmental cost of war, remember your puzzle piece. Remember to take care of it. Remember that grief, rage, and anxiety are natural responses to the harm and violence that are being done to humans and the planet on an unprecedented scale.


🏁 Checkpoint: This is the end of action step 4 of 4: REFLECT.

Check out our membership community for more resources like free weekly events with social justice experts, sustainable product discounts, pre-written email templates, a social impact job board, and in-person hangouts with new friends. Thanks for taking action with Soapbox Project!

Fight climate change in a way that works for you.

💌 Thinking about sustainability can be overwhelming after a busy workday, so we're here to help. Join over 7,000 other busy people and subscribe to Changeletter, a bite-sized action plan that'll take you 3 minutes or less to read every week.
Headshot of Ash Borkar (a woman with glasses and a cardigan)
"The info is always timely, actionable, and never stale." - Aishwarya Borkar, Change.org
Headshot of Meghan Mehta speaking at Google with a microphone in her hand
"Making social change always felt so overwhelming until I started reading this newsletter." - Meghan Mehta, Google

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