The US Military Emits More Pollution than Some Small Countries

A new analysis by Brown University finds that the Pentagon is the single largest producer of greenhouse gases in the world and emits more pollution than some small countries of comparable size, for example Sweden.

Published on June 12, the report uses the Costs of War Project to look at the years following the 2001 September 11th attacks to get a snapshot of the US military’s emissions. The report looks at the cost of America’s huge military, its operations and its wider defense program. It finds that between 2001 and 2017 the military’s output of CO2 was around 766 million metric tons. That is a huge figure.

To give more a basis for comparison, the researchers then zeroed in on specific years.

In 2017 alone, the US military emitted approximately 59 million metric tons of greenhouse gases. That doesn’t just dwarf business output. It actually adds up to more than the annual output of small countries like, Sweden, Portugal or Denmark. Were the US military a country it would sit at 55th out of more than 200 nations when ranked by its annual emissions.

Getting accurate figures for the military’s greenhouse gas output is difficult, because the Department of Defense is not required to report emissions to Congress — something that is a consistent source of consternation for environmental campaigners who say that the Pentagon is allowed, with arguably only modest oversight, to consume and emit on a massive scale. However, there are some expenditure reports that are illuminating, for example the Depart of Defense fuel purchases.

Researchers at Brown were also able to look at Department of Energy figures which catalog things like the Department of Defense’s energy production and fuel consumption. This gives some insight into just how much fuel the US military is using. From 2001 to 2017 the figures suggest that, when looking at all military branches together, the emissions totaled approximately 1.2 billion metric tons.

The US military is the world’s single largest consumer of oil, and although the Pentagon has sought to reduce its emissions over the years with some marked successes, it has treated the military’s climate impact as an inevitable and unavoidable consequence. The report argues that, while it is true that climate change is happening and things like species loss and geographical change are unavoidable, we can still prevent the worst of global warming. The military has a responsibility to address this problem by transitioning to renewables with greater speed.

Brown researcher and study author Neta C. Crawford, Professor of Political Science and Department Chair, writes in The Conversation: ”As national security scholars have argued, with dramatic growth in renewable energy and diminishing U.S. dependence on foreign oil, it is possible for Congress and the president to rethink our nation’s military missions and reduce the amount of energy the armed forces use to protect access to Middle East oil.”

While the Trump administration has made ignoring climate change a central aspect of the White House agenda, the Pentagon has broken with that line and in January informed Congress that it believes climate change constitutes ”a national security issue“, one that the Pentagon is determined to tackle. At the time, it said the military “must be able to adapt current and future operations to address the impacts of a variety of threats and conditions, including those from weather and natural events”.

This study reinforces that, if the Pentagon truly wants to tackle climate change, it needs to look at its own actions as much as outside factors.

The irony of all this is that we know climate change can drive armed conflict in several different ways, from reducing habitable land to creating a scarcity of food or undermining infrastructure which in turn creates poverty, corruption and more conflict. By failing to act now, the Department of Defense and America as a heavily militarized nation is essentially sleepwalking into the very conflicts it has sought to avoid by using its oversized military as a deterrent.

Photo credit: Getty Images.

152 comments

Alea C
Alea C5 hours ago

Back again for butterfly points.

SEND
Alea C
Alea C5 hours ago

Back again for butterfly points.

SEND
Alea C
Alea Cyesterday

tyfs

SEND
Alea C
Alea Cyesterday

Thank you for sharing.

SEND
Pam Bruce
Pam Bruceyesterday

I hope everyone who reads this believes it. I worked on both Army and Air Force property and what remains hidden on their property is horrible. So much toxic waste.

SEND
Leo C
Leo Cyesterday

Thank you for sharing!

SEND
Leo C
Leo Cyesterday

Thank you for sharing!

SEND
Naomi D
Naomi Dreyer3 days ago

My goodness!!!!

SEND
Alea C
Alea C3 days ago

I want to help save the rain forest via butterfly credits, and if that means I have to come here every day to comment on all these old articles then so be it.

SEND
Alea C
Alea C3 days ago

I want to help save the rain forest via butterfly credits, and if that means I have to come here every day to comment on all these old articles then so be it.

SEND