Military Ethics

The planet Earth from space.

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Sustainability, Ethics and War

by Peter Denton

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Peter H. Denton, Ph.D, is an Adjunct Associate Professor of History at the Royal Military College of Canada, where he has taught technology, warfare, and society since 2003. He holds a Ph.D in Religion and Social Sciences (McMaster), and is an ordained minister of the United Church of Canada. He is the author of a recent trilogy of books on sustainability (Gift Ecology: Reimagining a Sustainable World (2012); Technology and Sustainability (2014), and Live Close to Home (2016), published by Rocky Mountain Books.


As we mark the centenary of the Great War (1914–1918), it is hard not to think that every generation faces its own unique challenge, its own defining struggle. For our generation, it is to create the foundations for a sustainable future in the midst of a climate-changing world. Other generations had to meet their challenge through force of arms; we are effectively required to find other ways than force to solve the problem of sustainability for everyone, not just for ourselves. The future will be sustainable for all of us or for none.

Sustainability is, at heart, a social and cultural problem, not a technical problem. Its solution requires developments in society and culture, not in science and technology. To talk about sustainability in a military context is paradoxical, because it can easily be argued that the human propensity for conflict and the vast sums of money currently spent on militaries around the world make a sustainable future utterly impossible. The answer is not to turn the proverbial ‘Red Force/Blue Force’ split into some combined global ‘Purple Force’ for peace, however, because the historical reasons for current conflict are not so easily overcome. What instead the world needs is a new ‘Green Force,’ recognizing the ethical imperative on all sides to find some other way to solve the urgent problem of sustainability at local levels, globally.

Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division/Harris & Ewing/LC-H25-45605-BC

Raymond Fosdick.

As the distinguished scholar, lawyer, and long-time public servant Raymond Blaine Fosdick wrote in 1928, when the world teetered on the brink of the challenges of the Great Depression and the Second World War, we face the problem of “the Old Savage in the New Civilization.”1 Our moral development has not kept pace with our scientific and technological development, giving the ‘same old savage’ much more destructive weapons to wield than the stones and clubs of earlier time, and thus, the capacity to do far more damage. ‘The savage’ has to evolve morally in order to survive. In essence, solving the problem of sustainability and war requires a focus upon ethics – both individual and social.

It was a delight, therefore, to find two recent articles in the Canadian Military Journal (CMJ) on the subject of ethics, “Is There a Role for Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) Chaplains in Ethics?” by Padres Yvon Pichette and Jon Derrick Marshall, responded to by Stephen Hare in “Humanism and the Military Conscience: A Reply to Pichette and Marshall.”2 These articles not only opened up a necessary conversation, they provided a reminder of how the Defence Ethics Programme found its roots and impetus in the outcomes of the Somalia inquiry – pointing to the necessity of ethical conduct by members of the CAF at home and abroad and to the responsibility of the Department of National Defence (DND) to provide the infrastructure for training in ethical decision-making.

I would like to add a third dimension to the discussion of ethics in the CAF, relating to the roles members play in their personal and professional lives, as well as to the role played by the defence establishment in all its operations, in terms of how we can and must make better choices toward a sustainable future. If (as I would argue) we need a ‘Green Force’ concept in military operations to create the foundations for such a future, there is no reason why Canada could not lead the way.

As someone who has wrestled with the practical problems of teaching ethical decision-making in relation to technology and sustainability for nearly thirty years,3 I have come to prefer a pragmatic approach in terms of ethical ‘boots on the ground’ that leads to the kind of personal and social transformation a sustainable future requires. Morality is what people think is good or bad; ethics is what people do about it. Morality is grounded in the person – what the individual believes is good or bad, multiplied by the number of people who share that opinion into the morality associated with a culture or a society, which is then reflected in the laws we make and the rules we follow. When personal and social morality diverge, laws are broken, leading to some form of punishment of the individual when the crime is identified.

Without rules, laws or any punishment for breaking them, there are effectively no ethical boundaries on what people choose to do in society. If ethics is entirely personal, whatever your own reasons happen to be, they guide the actions you take. No one has the right to criticize what you do, nor is there any good reason to punish you for doing something wrong, because (in effect) there is nothing ‘wrong.’

Obviously, as Canadians, we do not live in a world like this, where social ethics do not exist. We have developed our rules, regulations, and legal codes by thinking through what are the best ethical choices for individuals to make who want to live together in a peaceful, just, and equitable society. Recruits are not allowed to determine the ethical code of the CAF; they are taught the ethical behaviour expected of a member of the CAF and they learn how to behave, sometimes the hard way, if they want to continue in uniform.

For a sustainable future, we need to make environmental sustainability an integral part of the ethical matrix of how we live and what we choose to do, as individuals, and as a society. It also needs to be made part of the ethical expectations of members of the CAF. The same environmental principles and regulations should be applied to military affairs, domestic and foreign, as they are to individuals and institutions in Canadian society. Environmental ethics therefore matters in the Canadian Armed Forces; there is no exemption due to the uniform, nor should there be any exemption for how the CAF undertakes military operations.

It may seem entirely absurd to worry about the ecological effects of the production of military materiel, or to be concerned about the ecosystems of a region upon which we are dropping bombs, but these are crucial examples of the nexus of sustainability, ethics and war. We must either find ways of mitigating or minimizing our environmental impact in all of our ways of interacting with each other and the Earth, or we guarantee a nightmare future. Mutually Assured Destruction is not only a nuclear option; ecological warfare has just as certain an outcome, over a longer period of time.

To make a stronger case, if we are to have any real hope for a sustainable future, we must stop acting as though military activities are unrelated to their environmental effects. In a climate-changing world, if we fight with impunity or without forethought, we face ecological disaster on a global scale that otherwise could have been avoided. Ecological factors should be factored into decisions made by governments, as well as by their military establishments, when preparing for or engaging in combat operations. When an ill-considered sortie causes more environmental harm in one place than can be remedied by a century of recycling somewhere else, for example, it also reminds us that local wars can have global effects, and that the proverbial ‘strategic corporal’ makes ethical decisions about ecological systems as well.

However paradoxical this might sound, therefore, military operations in the 21st Century need to, as much as possible, protect the environment, manage conflict, and support sustainable development, with a view to making players on all sides into members of a planetary ‘Green Force.’

Coastal scenery within a rain forest.

robertharding/Alamy Stock Photo D9FPJ5

From what follows here, I hope it will be clear this idea is neither improbable nor impossible, and, in fact, that walking this path is our best hope for a sustainable future in the midst of current circumstances.

To begin, understanding the nexus of sustainability, ethics and war requires us first to understand the implications of climate change, the need for global sustainable development, and how these together relate to security concerns and the potential for sustainability leadership by the Canadian Armed Forces and other military forces, including those fielded by the United Nations.

A Climate-Changing World

Lurching across a remote region of Kenya during the dry season three years ago, I asked my Maasai companions about the huts we passed that had missing or poorly-thatched roofs. Somewhat incredulous at what to them was a foolish question, they answered that there had not been enough rain for several years to grow the long grass required for the thatch – and then they asked me if I hadn’t heard about climate change where I lived?

The absurdity that the nature and extent of climate change is still debated in some First World circles, while its effects are clearly felt by indigenous people world-wide, raises doubt about whether modern science speaks loudly enough for decision-makers to hear and to heed its voice. The more these decision-makers live in large, wealthy urban centres and try to insulate themselves against the effects of changing climate – or any climate at all – the more divorced from reality the environmental policies they implement can therefore become.

While scientists can be defunded and their findings ignored, Mother Earth will not be so easily dismissed. That the global climate is changing is indisputable; what the specific regional effects might be remains unclear, but the time scale of these changes seems to be more rapid than was first predicted, especially temperatures in the polar regions, leading to the loss of ice cover, and the corresponding likelihood of rising sea levels and warming oceans.

When it comes to making decisions about conflict in the 21st Century, understanding the mechanisms of climate change and the key areas where a changing climate increasingly will have security implications should therefore be a fundamental consideration for militaries worldwide. For example, areas where clean water supplies are marginal translate into flashpoints for conflict when upstream neighbours threaten the water supply for people downstream. Alternatively, anyone wishing to force migration out of such an area need only tamper with the water supply, letting drought, famine, and disease push people away from their homes instead of using other means of force. If access to minerals is the goal, fostering local ecological insecurity in this way means smallholder farmers will leave for safer places.

Scientific information about climate change is readily available and should therefore be incorporated into planning and training cycles in the Canadian Armed Forces on a regular basis. The most recent (and most comprehensive) report is the Global Environmental Outlook 6 (GEO 6) from the United Nations Environment Programme (recently UN Environment), which included six regional assessments when it was released in May 2016. (A global combined GEO 6 is in development and will be released by 2019.) GEO 6 is available free on-line, and, for each of the six regions, reports on the state of the environment and identifies situations where climate change will provide challenges to the people who live there.4 As such, GEO 6 is descriptive rather than prescriptive, focusing more upon states and trends than specifically upon what different member states or regions must do. While these national and sub-national concerns officially lie outside the scope of UN Environment’s activities, there continues to be a need for improvements to environmental regulations, and especially their enforcement, by governments at all levels around the world.

Yet, whether it is drought that destabilizes regions and causes famine that forces migration and promotes conflict, or whether it is the lack of political stability that promotes conflict, causes famine, and leads to increased ‘desertification’ and drought, these elements are all intimately interrelated. There is a disturbing degree of overlap when current conflict zones are overlaid by other maps depicting drought, famine, and extreme weather, to the point one author described this region of trouble circling the globe as the “tropic of chaos.”5 When recent popular publications have lurid titles like Climate Wars6 or Climate Wars: Why People Will Be Killed in the Twenty-First Century,7 what is evident to the reading public should be commonly discussed within any military establishment that is preparing for conflicts to come in a climate-changing world.

Sustainable Development Goals

Similarly, there should be more conversation about the need for sustainable development, especially in those areas where civilian populations are most at risk from the effects of climate change. Global warming in general is the result of increasing human population and its unsustainable levels of production and consumption – more people producing and consuming more ‘stuff’ creates an increasing burden on the carrying capacity of the planet, pushing toward or exceeding planetary boundaries in dangerous ways. The global disparity between rich and poor nations, along with disparities between rich and poor people within nations or regions, is a source of ongoing and potentially devastating conflict. A reduction in consumption by developed regions is required to offset the necessity of further development in regions where the bulk of the populations hovers at the edge of subsistence.

The complexities of this problem were addressed by the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, approved by the United Nations in October 2015. The seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), with their subsets and targets, identify what needs to be done to move the planetary population in the direction of a sustainable future by 2030.8 Agreed upon by consensus, through the largest consultation ever undertaken involving governments, industry, and civil society, the 2030 Agenda’s goals are, admittedly, an ambitious projection of global society from where we are now to where we need to be. It presumes a collective collaboration to mitigate the effects of climate change and work together toward a common planetary goal of environmental, social, and economic sustainability.

Agenda 2030 is a noble effort, but throughout, there is assumption that – somehow – these goals will be accomplished peaceably, with even less conflict than there is at present.9 The SDGs assume that the planetary shift to sustainability will be led by the countries that have the wealth to manage and finance the shift. Unfortunately, these countries also have the money to deploy or support militaries that would render the SDGs pointless. Environment and development are inescapably intertwined. Unless we solve the development problem by reducing consumption among the wealthy and increasing it among the poor – and do so in a way that does not fuel further climate change – the future is bleak. It is also bleak if we do not at the same time find ways to ensure that the military establishment, in all its domestic and foreign operations, enhances the necessary shifts in security, ecology, and development at local levels, instead of preventing them.10

Looking at recent or ongoing conflicts, it is clear that environmental considerations are not paramount in the current conduct of war.11 While the dangers of linking humanitarian and development aid to military operations have been observed,12 at the same time, it is clear that in the aftermath of the human and environmental devastation of war, outside intervention involving military forces is often essential. If those interventions are undertaken in ways to minimize possibilities for future conflicts, restore and rebuild ecosystems and infrastructure, and provide the means for local populations to support themselves, they can create a foundation for a sustainable future in that place. There is, moreover, a growing body of excellent work that demonstrates the importance and the necessity of interweaving environment and peace building, with examples drawn from a wide range of global experiences.13

Working toward sustainability in this way requires deliberate ethical choices on the part of militaries, their members, and the governments to whom they must answer. These choices cannot be accidental, nor their actions incidental; they must be based upon the conviction that this is what needs to be done, in this place, and for good reasons.

There are good reasons to be found in the devastating environmental and social aftermath of past and present industrial warfare. We do not need to look very far to find evidence of what it means when environmental devastation is shrugged off as merely collateral damage in time of war and ethical considerations about the environment are discounted.

Beaverbrook Collection of Wart Art/Canadian War Museum/CWM 19710261-0100

Ablain St-Nazaire, 1918, by John William Beatty.

Beaverbrook Collection of Wart Art/Canadian War Museum/CWM 19710261-0121

Returning to the Reconquered Land, by Sir George Clausen.

As we revisit the events of the Great War, it is still easy to see how modern industrial warfare has more than generational effects upon the landscape and the lives of the people who live where battles once were fought. Thousands of acres of the battle lines are still off-limits, because of what lies hidden beneath the surface. Every year, farmers turn over (and sometimes explode) munitions from the war, including shells filled with chemical warfare agents. The decomposition of these munitions affects the ground water, adding heavy metals in sufficient concentration to pose human health risk even where the bombs are inactive and unlikely to ever be found.

These munitions were intended to explode, but did not do so. In less concentration, and spread over wider areas, Second World War munitions also continue to be found in the process of excavation in cities and towns, requiring populations to be evacuated while the bomb disposal units do their work. Similarly, the chemical aftermath of dioxins and other agents used in the Vietnam War continue to affect the health of the civilian population.14

Eye Ubiquitous/Alamy Stock Photo A461EJ

From the Vietnam War, in Laos, bomb craters left from US B-52 bombing raids.

Eye Ubiquitous/Alamy Stock Photo B95GD3

From the Vietnam War, from North Vietnam, a women carrying a basket of vegetables on her head while passing the ruins of war damaged buildings.

Some efforts have been made to change the development and deployment trajectory of munitions that are residual hazards to the civilian population in conflict zones long after the war has ended. The extensive use of anti-personnel mines, especially in Afghanistan, led to the drafting and signing in Ottawa of the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their Destruction (1997). Yet while Canada took the lead on this treaty, major players (the United States, Russia and China) and others have so far refused to sign. Similarly, though the use of chemical and biological agents against civilian populations is prohibited under international law, considerable stockpiles of both are rumored on all sides, and occasional examples of deployment, at least, of chemical agents, have been reported in Iraq and Syria.15

Johnny Saunderson/Alamy Stock Photo H9CEJ3

In Afghanistan, on 1 June 2004, near Bagram Air Base, a member of the HALO Trust at work clearing landmines.

vario images GmbH & Co.KG/Alamy Stock Photo AEN0G7

Ruins in Kabul, Afghanistan.

International legal frameworks have some value in shaping the behaviour of combatants. After all, when it comes to dealing with people, the international community has imposed a legal framework upon conflict that allows for the post facto prosecution of ‘war crimes,’ or ‘crimes against humanity.’ In theory, such a legal framework acts as a deterrent and affects the behaviour of combatants by setting ethical boundaries on what is expected or will be tolerated. Perhaps this ethical framework could be extended to criminalize, at least to an extent, environmental or ecological offences. In fact, ecocide actually has more far-reaching consequences than genocide because it also perpetuates the immediate offence into a crime against future generations.

Forty years ago, the serious environmental dangers posed by industrial warfare led to the Convention on the Prohibition of Military or Any Other Hostile Use of Environmental Modification Techniques (ENMOD) that came into effect 5 October 1978. Long before climate volatility was seen as a problem, this convention tried to restrict the deliberate use or destruction of the environment in time of war. While major players signed, ratified, or acceded to the document, very few of the countries in current conflict zones are included in the list. Moreover, ENMOD was to have periodic reviews, the latest of which was cancelled in 2014, due to lack of interest among member states.16

However, given how much has transpired since 1978, both in terms of climate change and the science of environmental modification, this ENMOD agreement by itself is unlikely to provide the necessary legal framework for environmental protection. The UN’s International Law Commission continues to work on the problem, but progress remains slow, and, whatever is decided, it still only applies to the aftermath of such environment damage.17 Nonetheless, at the same time, a resolution on the protection of the environment in areas affected by armed conflict was passed by consensus of member states at the second United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA-2) in Nairobi in May 2016, something considered to be a hopeful sign of further efforts.18

While it would be a positive step to make environmental crime by itself something over which the International Criminal Court has jurisdiction, realistically, any punishments would come long after the conflict was over, presuming those responsible survived and could be brought to trial.

Prosecution after the fact, however, is cold comfort for those who do not live to see justice done. The relationship between war and environment must involve more than post-conflict restoration or remediation scenarios. Nor is prosecution for eco-crimes afterward necessarily an effective deterrent to ecologically destructive behaviour in a conflict zone when the fighting is taking place. What we know of the aftermath of warfare in the modern age therefore requires an ethical framework with respect to sustainability that mitigates the damage that war can do long before it happens – or which prevents it from happening at all.

Using ethics to link sustainability and war identifies a crucial nexus of current decision-making where choices are being made that will determine whether we have a sustainable future – or (given a nuclear scenario, in which any exchange risks global annihilation) whether we have any future at all.

Unfortunately, this ethical nexus does not appear to be well understood, nor are the right conceptual tools being used that would yield a range of wise decisions with respect to the ecological impacts involved in the planning and conduct of military operations by the Canadian Armed Forces, or by other militaries around the world.

Some brief digression is needed here… Planning and combat simulation exercises are very much a part of contemporary training, because they allow for outcomes to be evaluated against the options presented to the opposing ‘red’ and ‘blue’ forces, without actually having to fight.

But the validity of those simulations depends upon the accuracy and complexity of the modeling; if ethics (and good choices) in warfare only depended upon choosing the best consequences for oneself and one’s own forces, then no one would ever lose a battle or a war.

However, if the models do not incorporate the environmental (as well as social and cultural) damage even a local conflict will cause, then they are three-dimensional representations of multi-dimensional systems that, inevitably, will be wrong in critical respects, especially in the longer term.

Making better choices therefore requires better analytical and ethical tools. Wars no longer take place on the ‘battlefield’ of earlier times; the term of choice for the past twenty years has been ‘battlespace.’ I believe this term is also inadequate, something I explained at length in an earlier article in the CMJ. I therefore suggest it is better to use ‘battlesphere’ to depict the multi-dimensional system effects of actions in warfare, over time: “The battlesphere is the dynamic operational sphere surrounding a particular conflict which is bounded in all directions by its causal effects. Included within that sphere are the dynamic relationships of the geographical, logistical, tactical, strategic and human elements involved.”19

Ancient philosophy would often refer to ‘the music of the spheres’ as a way of depicting how every action reverberated in the heavens, on the earth and under the earth, demonstrating the essential unity and interrelationship of all life. The more we learn about those interrelationships – often the hard way, as landscapes or seascapes change and species disappear – the more powerful the idea of the ecosphere becomes. Humans are very much interwoven with that ecosphere; we cannot go anywhere on the planet and find that human activities have not significantly affected how other creatures live.

Calm river in lush tropical rain forest.

blickwinkel/Alamy Stock Photo BN4D85

The ecology movement warns of the need to better understand those complex, dynamic and living systems, before they are shifted into a new planetary equilibrium that makes human life difficult or impossible. Earth will survive; whether or not people survive is up to us. Simply put, what we do has an effect upon the world around us; what we do without thinking causes damage we do not intend, but it is just as bad as if we had deliberately attacked our own habitat or intentionally destroyed the world in which our children are supposed to be able to live.

If we understand the battlesphere as the sphere of all the effects of some military action, the size of that sphere and its duration depends upon the intensity of what was done. Some of its effects are ecological, and we can identify those by intersecting the battlesphere with the ecosphere. The area of overlap, and its persistence, reflect the severity. Chop a tree down to remove a potential observation point and the effects are local and short-term; defoliate and burn a forest to deny cover to guerrillas, and the effects are at least generational, changing the hydrology of the area, the wildlife, the opportunities for livelihoods dependent upon the forest, and so on. Residual chemicals (like dioxins) can continue to cause health problems for a very long time.

The greater the overlap between the battlesphere and the ecosphere, the more systems are affected over a longer term, and the more serious the effects of the actions taken during a conflict therefore become. Nuclear war, for example, would entirely overlap battlesphere and ecosphere, leaving nothing unaffected by the weapons used. Total war, as conflicts in the 20th Century were described, would involve the same complete overlap in the 21st Century, given the increased interdependence of global society and the sophistication and range of weapons able to be used in cyberwar, space war, economic war, bio-chemical war, and so on. The overall result could be just as lethal for humanity as a nuclear exchange.

We should know all this by now, and it should be affecting how our militaries plan and conduct operations. After more than a century of experience with modern industrial warfare, to claim that catastrophic environmental effects in warfare are the result of unintended and unforeseen consequences is simply unacceptable. There is ample evidence of post-conflict environmental problems that should be considered in military decision-making, thus rendering any unintended ecological consequences of war the result of ignorance or poor planning, not just bad luck. We need to make better choices.

There is also at least one more sphere to consider, one that brings us back to the nexus of sustainability, ethics, and war. The effects of a military action, the creation of a battlesphere, involve more than ecological impacts. The effects of something happening in battle also ripple out into the personal, social, and cultural systems that are involved. Those other system effects can be devastating and longer term than the ecological effects and one less easily explained; post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an excellent example of the long-term effects upon combatants of having been involved in some conflict situation that requires another framework to understand that goes beyond the spheres of physical effects.

I prefer the term the distinguished anthropologist Wade Davis first suggested, the ‘ethnosphere,’ to depict this third interrelated sphere,20 but I have enlarged and redefined it to be more useful. Whereas the ecosphere and the battlesphere are descriptive, the ethnosphere is explanatory. The ethnosphere is “…the totality of human motivations toward personal, social and cultural activities and the practical expression of what they mean.” It is also the place where our decisions are located, the reasons we have for acting the way we do, and the locus of ethical decision-making. Thus, “…if the ecosphere defines where we live and the battlesphere what happens when we fight, the ethnosphere defines not only who we are, but how we answer that question, especially in our interactions with each other and with the planet.”21

Our personal ethnosphere is like our personal morality – the sphere of what we each believe (literally) about life, the universe and everything. When that personal ethnosphere leads us to do something, it creates an ethical moment. Our actions immediately become social and ecological, because whatever we do (because of what we believe) affects others. The tools we need to manage that intersection between what we believe and what we do are therefore ethical tools.

Ideas about “nature” and about “war” are located in the ethnosphere; it is what we do with those ideas that matter. When unchallenged by others, those ideas can persist in our personal ethnosphere for a long time, perhaps even reinforced by finding people who share them. Arguments about the reality of climate change, or the possibilities of sustainable development, or the potential for world peace are thus fought in the ethnosphere, which is why some ideas retain currency long after any reasonable person should have rejected them.

What constitutes a sustainable future, whether or not it is possible, and what needs to change are therefore discussions found in the ethnosphere of both Canadian society and our global society. How we resolve those issues when they intersect with the lives of others and the ecological systems of the Earth will help shape our collective future.

However, we have come a long way from my insistence upon transformative ethics being expressed in terms of ethical ‘boots on the ground’, so I want to offer some specific suggestions about how to transform the CAF into a ‘Green Force’:

  1. Ensure the incorporation of the best available scientific data, from all sources, in any discussions about environmental impacts or sustainable development in training, planning, and conducting military operations. Plan to avoid ecological impact as much as possible, not try to fix it afterward;
  2. Apply the best principles of sustainability to CAF bases, installations and operations (domestic or deployed), not merely meeting current environmental regulations, but exceeding them, to reduce or eliminate the CAF local ecological footprint;
  3. Apply the business case for sustainability to CAF operations, to improve efficiencies, increase resilience, reduce dependency upon ‘just-in-time’ long-distance deliveries of essentials, not only to reduce the ecological footprint, but to save money for other operational requirements. ‘Green’ should not only be smarter, but cheaper as well;
  4. ‘Green’ the CAF supply chain by mandating stringent sustainability standards, which must be met by all suppliers of materiel to the CAF as an enforceable condition of procurement contracts;
  5. Understand the principles of sustainable development and incorporate them on all deployments abroad, leveraging local change in a sustainable manner, respecting local ecological conditions, and, if possible, (following the goals laid out in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development) intentionally using CAF resources and personnel on deployment to advance the Sustainable Development Goals that relate to the local population;
  6. While on deployment, whenever possible, use CAF personnel to collect and forward to UN Environment the crucial environmental data from conflict zones that civilian organizations are unable to gather;
  7. Identify ways in which changing climate increases risk and vulnerability both at home and abroad. Incorporate adaptation, mitigation, and resilience strategies in training, planning, and operational cycles for all CAF personnel;
  8. Beginning with senior staff, ensure that education, training, and experience in ethics relating to climate change, sustainability, and sustainable development becomes a core competency among all CAF officers and NCMs, and made part of the responsibilities of the person responsible for ethics at the unit level.

In conclusion, a new Defence White Paper for the Canadian Armed Forces is long overdue. Perhaps, in view of the need to work together in ethical ways toward a sustainable future, it should be a Defence Green Paper…

Autumn tree colours on display.

Loop Images Ltd/Alamy Stock Photo CF43G5


  1. Raymond Blaine Fosdick, The Old Savage and the New Civilization (New York: Doubleday Doran, 1928). This is a collection of college commencement addresses by Fosdick, who went on to become the President of the Rockefeller Foundation and who championed a shift away from emphasis upon the ‘hard’ sciences to the social sciences.
  2. Yvon Pichette and Jon Derrick Marshall, “Is There a Role for Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) Chaplains in Ethics?” in Canadian Military Journal, Vol. 16, No. 1, Winter 2015, pp. 59-66. Stephen Hare, “Humanism and the Military Conscience: A Reply to Pichette and Marshall,” in Canadian Military Journal, Vol. 16, No. 3, Summer 2016, pp. 60-65.
  3. For a case-based approach to transformative ethical decision-making, see my “Making Better Choices: Ethics, Technology and Sustainability,” in World Trends on Education for Sustainable Development, Walter Leal Filho (ed.), (Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 2011), Chapter 13, pp. 219-234.
  4. I was privileged to be part of the writing team for the North American Regional Assessment, primarily for the Outlook chapter, as well as being elected Rapporteur for the Intergovernmental Global Multi-Stakeholder Consultations in Berlin (21-23 October 2014), that established parameters for GEO 6. The experience was a confirmation of how much our public scientific information is dependent upon consensus (and therefore tends to be conservative in outcomes). The six regional assessment reports may be accessed at:
  5. Christian Parenti, Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence (New York: Nation Books, 2012).
  6. Gwynne Dyer, Climate Wars (Toronto: Random House, 2008)
  7. Harald Welzer, Climate Wars: Why People Will Be Killed in the Twenty-First Century. (Trans from Patrick Camiller 2008), (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2012).
  9. A good example is Jeffrey Sachs, The Age of Sustainable Development (New York: Columbia University Press, 2015). In its 500+ pages, there is no chapter devoted to the problems of peace and security, or to conflict in the midst of climate change.
  10. Even the fact of deployment to conflict or disaster zones by itself can have serious ecological consequences that need to be planned for and mitigated. See Annica Waleij and Birgitta Liljedahl, The Gap between Buzz Words and Excellent Performance: The Environmental Footprint of Military and Civilian Actors in Crises and Conflict Settings (Stockholm: FOI, March 2016).
  11. For an excellent civil society-led resource hub on the effects of conflict on the environment, see The Toxic Remnants of War Project at: ( . I owe special thanks to Doug Weir from TWRP for his assistance in research for this article. The Stockholm International peace Research Institute (SIPRI) is another excellent source (, as is the Swedish Defence Research Agency (FOI) (
  12. Samantha Nutt, Damned Nations: Greed, Guns, Armies & Aid (Toronto; McClelland and Stewart, 2011).
  13. <> is a community of practice created by the Environmental Law Institute, the United Nations Environment Program, McGill University, and the University of Tokyo. Its five-year project (2008-2013) resulted in five excellent anthologies, now available on-line, detailing many facets of environmental peacebuilding, the last of which was published in 2016. See:
  14. Donovan Webster, Aftermath: The Remnants of War (New York: Vintage, 1998).
  16. Letter from the UN Secretary General, 27 January 2014, at:
  17. In September 2016, the Office of the Prosecutor at the International Criminal Court published a paper indicating that environmental damage was to be considered as one factor in determining whether a charge is warranted. See: This is a small step forward, since the report released by UNEP in 2009 that effectively pointed out the inadequacy of current legal frameworks to address even post-conflict environmental damage. Protecting the Environment During Armed Conflict: A Inventory and Analysis of International Law, at:
  18. Ambassador Marie G. Jacobsson, Working to Protect the Environment in Armed Conflict, at: Having been present for the initial discussions and for the debate at UNEA-2 (as Major Groups and Stakeholders Regional Representative to UNEP from North America), recognition of the need for this protection was generally agreed by delegates, but not the means by which it might be accomplished. The resolution was a compromise out of several others initially proposed that focused on specific regions. It therefore marked a step forward, but I fear not a substantial one, in terms of the international regulation of environmental impacts of war. However, others working in the area had a more optimistic perspective. See:
  19. Peter H. Denton, “From Battlespace to Battlesphere,” in Canadian Military Journal, Vol. 12, No. 4, Autumn 2012, p. 28.
  20. He defines it as: “…the sum total of all thoughts and intuitions, myths and beliefs, ideas and inspirations brought into being by the human imagination since the dawn of consciousness.” Wade Davis, The Wayfinders: Why Ancient Wisdom Matters in the Modern World (Toronto: Anansi, 2009), p. 2.
  21. Denton, p.31.