human activity and the destruction of the planet

The Carbon Footprint of war II: US military emissions of greenhouse gases

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There is a chapter in my book entitled “Conflict, conquest, weaponry, wars and the power of propaganda”, in which I describe and discuss the carbon footprint of war, as well as the reasons why people, and especially men, like to go to war. You should be able to find this chapter elsewhere on this website and it provides some interesting data.

This blog adds to the chapter and is from a piece I was sent by a colleague about U.S. military emissions since the beginning of the Global War on Terror in 2001. It is from the Watson Institute, Brown University:


Scientists and security analysts have warned for more than a decade that global warming is a potential national security concern.

They project that the consequences of global warming – rising seas, powerful storms, famine and diminished access to fresh water – may make regions of the world politically unstable and prompt mass migration and refugee crises.

Some worry that wars may follow.

Yet with few exceptions, the U.S. military’s significant contribution to climate change has received little attention. Although the Defense Department has significantly reduced its fossil fuel consumption since the early 2000s, it remains the world’s single largest consumer of oil – and as a result, one of the world’s top greenhouse gas emitters.

Read more here.

Another piece, published in The Conversation, claims that the US military is a bigger polluter than as many as 140 countries.

The article starts:

“The US military’s carbon bootprint is enormous. Like corporate supply chains, it relies upon an extensive global network of container ships, trucks and cargo planes to supply its operations with everything from bombs to humanitarian aid and hydrocarbon fuels. Our new study calculated the contribution of this vast infrastructure to climate change.

Greenhouse gas emission accounting usually focuses on how much energy and fuel civilians use. But recent work, including our own, shows that the US military is one of the largest polluters in history, consuming more liquid fuels and emitting more climate-changing gases than most medium-sized countries. If the US military were a country, its fuel usage alone would make it the 47th largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world, sitting between Peru and Portugal………

It’s no coincidence that US military emissions tend to be overlooked in climate change studies. It’s very difficult to get consistent data from the Pentagon and across US government departments. In fact, the United States insisted on an exemption for reporting military emissions in the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. This loophole was closed by the Paris Accord, but with the Trump administration due to withdraw from the accord in 2020, this gap will will return.”

USmilitary planes

US military planes

The full article can be read in The Conversation link posted above. The article concludes as follows:

“Our study shows that action on climate change demands shuttering vast sections of the military machine. There are few activities on Earth as environmentally catastrophic as waging war. Significant reductions to the Pentagon’s budget and shrinking its capacity to wage war would cause a huge drop in demand from the biggest consumer of liquid fuels in the world.

It does no good tinkering around the edges of the war machine’s environmental impact. The money spent procuring and distributing fuel across the US empire could instead be spent as a peace dividend, helping to fund a Green New Deal in whatever form it might take. There are no shortage of policy priorities that could use a funding bump. Any of these options would be better than fuelling one of the largest military forces in history.

And a report from NATO Watch:

The US military emits more greenhouse gases than Sweden, study finds

Sat, 06/29/2019 – 11:54

The United States produces more greenhouse gas emissions through its military operations than several individual European countries, a new study found.

According to the study published by Brown University in the United States, since the 2001 intervention in Afghanistan in response to the 9/11 attacks, the US military has emitted 1,212 million metric tons of greenhouse gasses. This includes 400 million tons of directly war-related emissions in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and Syria. In 2017, the last year for which data is available, the Pentagon emitted 58.4 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent.

“If it were a country, it would’ve been the world’s 55th largest CO2 emitter — with emissions larger than Portugal, Sweden, or Denmark”, said the study’s author Professor Neta Crawford. “This makes the Pentagon the US Government’s largest fossil fuel consumer as it accounts for between 77% and 80% of all federal government energy consumption since 2001,” she said in an article.

Transporting troops and using weapons accounted for about 70% of the energy consumption, mostly due to the burning of jet and diesel fuel. The remaining 30% of its energy use is for physical installations, mostly for the electricity needed to power more than 560,000 buildings at about 500 sites around the globe.

China is the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter, followed by the United States. Global temperatures are set to rise between 3-5C this century, the UN World Meteorological Organization said in November 2018. This projected rise far exceeds the global target of limiting the increase to 2C or less.

The security risks posed by global warming are well known, and the Pentagon has been evaluating the dangers it poses for nearly 20 years. In January 2019, the US military branded climate change “a national security issue” in a report to Congress and has launched multiple initiatives to prepare for its impact.

Crawford noted the Pentagon has reduced its fuel consumption significantly since 2009 by making its vehicles more efficient and using cleaner sources of energy in its bases. However, she said they could reduce them further by cutting fuel-heavy missions to the Persian Gulf to protect access to oil.

One of the long-standing stated goals of the United States military has been to keep the world oil supply stable. Ironically, this means that the US military is using huge amounts of oil, in part to make sure that the supply of oil remains secure. Professor Crawford argues that the United States has an important public policy decision to make: “Do we continue to orient our foreign policy and military force posture toward ensuring access to fossil fuels? Or do we dramatically reduce the use of fossil fuels, including the military’s own dependency, and thus reduce the perceived need to preserve access to oil resources?”.

Crawford suggests that a reduction of fossil fuel use by the military would have “enormous positive implications for the climate”, save huge amounts of money, help prevent climate change-related threats, and reduce the need for US military forces to be in the Middle East.

Scientists for Global Responsibility has looked at this issue over the last four years and further details of the effects of the military on climate change can be seen at the following links:

These sites cover the following:

The carbon boot-print of the military
Stuart Parkinson; Movement for the Abolition of War conference; June 2019

Could climate change lead to a nuclear war?
Stuart Parkinson; CND conference, London; October 2017

UK military-industrial interests and climate change
Stuart Parkinson; People’s Climate Summit, Paris, France; December 2015

Nuclear weapons and climate catastrophe
Philip Webber; SGR conference, London; November 2015

Demilitarization for deep decarbonization
Tamara Lorincz; SGR conference, London; November 2015

Climate change and military conflict
Stuart Parkinson; Movement for the Abolition of War AGM; November 2008

Guns and global warming: war, peace and the environment
Stuart Parkinson; Network for Peace AGM, London; February 2007

Military spending hits record levels, while climate finance falls short
Stuart Parkinson; Laboratory News; June 2018

A climate of insecurity
Stuart Parkinson; Responsible Science blog; November 2015

Wind turbines and solar panels into nuclear weapons: the UK’s new industrial strategy?
Stuart Parkinson; The Ecologist; October 2015

Climate or military?
Stuart Parkinson; Laboratory News; April 2014

Nuclear weapons over wind turbines? UK R&D policies are warped
Stuart Parkinson; New Scientist; February 2014

War in Libya – the role of the arms and oil industries
Stuart Parkinson; SGR Newsletter; October 2011

Military R&D 85 times larger than renewable energy R&D
Stuart Parkinson; SGR Newsletter; winter 2008

The International Peace Bureau has also published an information paper by Jessica Fort and Phillipp Straub, entitled “The United States and European military’s impact on climate change”

and also sent put a press release for the COP25 meeting in Madrid:

which calls on:

  1. COP25 to include the military in its climate action work and to adopt provisions covering military compliance. The COP25 must include military emissions in their calculations and the CO2 emissions laundering has to stop. It should also include a blueprint to reduce military emissions.
  2.  the State Parties to the Paris Agreement to adjust its provision to military emissions, not leaving decisions up to nation states as to which national sectors should make emissions cuts.
  3.  an inclusion of military greenhouse gas emissions into climate change regulations. Moreover, countries need to be obliged, without exemption, to cut military emissions and transparently report them.
  4.  more academic studies (in line with the study from Brown University report) and an IPCC or equal special report. The report needs to be a common project of academics and the civil society.


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