8 Feb 2024 17:00 - 19:00 Online & Room SG2, Alison Richard Building, 7 West Road, Cambridge


An event by the Military Surplus: Toxicity, Industry and War research network


  • Benjamin Neimark (Queen Mary University of London)
  • Kali Rubaii (Purdue University)


Benjamin Neimark
‘Concrete Impacts: Blast Walls, Wartime Emissions, and the US Occupation of Iraq’

Militaries around the world are a major source of carbon emissions, yet very little is known about their carbon footprint. Reliable data around military resource use and environmental damage is highly variable. Researchers are dependent upon military transparency, the context of military operations, and broader emissions reporting. While studies are beginning to emerge on global militaries and their carbon footprints, less work has focused on wartime emissions. In a recent paper, we examined one sliver of the hidden carbon emissions of late-modern warfare by focusing on the use of concrete “blast walls” by US forces in Baghdad over a five-year period (2003–2008). This study used a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) to examine one of the world’s largest military carbon footprints of concrete, an infrastructural weapon in late-modern urban counterinsurgencies. Moving beyond dominant discourses on climate-security and “greening”, we present one of the first studies to expose direct and indirect military emissions resulting from combat. I follow this up with some recent work around conflict emission in Israel-Gaza.

Kali Rubaii
‘The many toxic lives of war metals’

This talk begins at the belly of war, in Fallujah, Iraq — one of the most heavily bombarded cities in Iraq. Based on Rubaii’s ethnographic fieldwork between 2014 and 2023, the talk traces war metals from the sand and bodies of children in Fallujah back to their origins at war’s jaws: mineral mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where such metals are extracted by artisanal miners for use by tech and weapons companies. The talk also follows the post-battle life of weaponized metals to its tail, where these metals are recycled by Indian laborers in steel factories in Iraqi Kurdistan as a central part of the concrete industry, or where they are destroyed in burn pits in Colfax, Louisiana. By tracing the toxic exposures people face at multiple sites of metal extraction, weaponization, reuse, and disposal, this talk identifies two key points about war’s toxic tentacles: 1) it identifies the many bodies and people whose lives are ravaged by warfare far from the site and dates of documented battles, and 2) it pinpoints locations in which further research may identify forensic sites of intervention in an increasingly diffuse network of corporate and contracted war-making.

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