Opinion: The U.S. Military’s Carbon Footprint is Unacceptable

Updated: Oct 18, 2021

The United States’s ignorance of climate change has been an object of mockery within the country and around the world. When U.S. government scientists published the National Climate Assessment based on thousands of climate studies and the findings of 13 federal agencies, President Donald Trump rejected it. The assessment revealed that the majority of greenhouse gases emissions stem from human activities and pose serious economic risks looking to the future. “I don’t believe it. No, no, I don’t believe it,” Trump said in response to this assessment. Unfortunately, the President’s goals for fossil fuel energy expansion and anti-climate science carries out to other sectors of the government, particularly the U.S. military.

According to researchers from Brown University, the U.S. military has been responsible for over 1,212 million metric tons of greenhouse gases since the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. In fact, in 2017 alone, military carbon dioxide emissions accumulated to 59 million tons. This total is greater than the CO2 emissions of several industrialized nations including Sweden and Switzerland. Moreover, according to BP’s Statistical Review of World Energy, a collection and analysis of energy data that also records CO2 emissions in different countries, the U.S. military was also found to produce more greenhouse gases than Morocco, Hungary, Finland, New Zealand, and Norway. The researchers determined that if the Pentagon were a country, it would be the 55th largest emitter of CO2.

These emissions primarily come from the U.S. military’s immense purchasing and burning of fossil fuels. According to a public assessment of the US military’s greenhouse gas emissions by social scientists from Durham University and Lancaster University, in 2017, the U.S. military purchased 269,230 barrels of oils and emitted more than 25,000 kilotones of emissions from these fuels. Moreover, the Air Force purchased $4.9 billion worth of fuel, the Navy $2.8 billion, and the Army $947 million worth of fuel all in the same year.

Due to Trump’s withdrawal of the U.S. from the 2015 Paris climate accords, a global framework to prevent climate change, the military is able to burn as much fuel as it wants, yielding the aforementioned emissions. As a result, in 2018, the U.S. experienced the largest annual increase in toxic greenhouse emissions since 2000 according to Rhodium Group, an independent research group, who found that fossil fuel emissions rose by 2.7%. Similar legislative rejection was seen under President George W. Bush, with the Kyoto Protocol, an international treaty to fight climate change. In this case, the U.S. specifically advocated to exempt its military from the environmental standards laid out and inevitably went on to never ratify the agreement.

However, what remains ironic about the U.S. military’s greenhouse gas contributions is that it is heavily at risk to the detriments of climate change, and yet, continues to exacerbate the climate crisis. A 2019 Department of Defense report on climate change found that “[climate change] will affect the Department of Defense’s ability to defend the nation and poses immediate risks to the U.S. national security.” According to the report, climate change threatens 53 U.S. military installations due to flooding, 43 installations by drought, and 36 are especially at risk from wildfires.

Another example includes Tyndall Air Force Base. This base, which houses the headquarters of the Florida Air National Guard and the 325th Fighter Wing, was hit by Hurricane Michael in 2018. As a result, “training and maintenance schedules for almost a third of the nation’s F-22 fighter jets were disturbed,” according to the Climate Reality Project. As seen in these military installations, a higher rate of extreme weather events including hurricanes, droughts, and wildfires are just some of the ways climate change undermines the military and fosters conditions that may destabilize countries around the globe.

Thus, going into the future, it is of utmost importance that the U.S. military implements measures to reduce its carbon footprint; not only to mitigate climate change, but to prevent compromising its ability to defend our nation.

What are your thoughts on the carbon footprint of the U.S. military and the Trump administration’s rejection of climate science?

“The US military being one of the main purveyors of carbon emissions is absolutely no surprise, and it’s why the emphasis of intersectionality in the context of the climate movement is so important. Nothing happens in a vacuum—the military industrial complex is one of the main drivers of fossil fuel investment. Rooted in an ideology that intends to assert a hegemonic dominance over the global community, the US military is as extractive and corruptive as the fossil fuels that power their naval ships and fighter jets. Dirty energy for an even dirtier mindset. This is 100% the idealism in me talking, but this is the future that I envision for the US military. The military industrial complex is rooted in colonialism. To ultimately rectify the multitude of issues that the US military causes (many of which stem from our imperialist values), we must decolonize the prevailing American mindset. Decolonization entails recognizing the validity of the sovereignty of foreign nations and refusing to impose dominion over lands that are not our own. Through the approach of decolonization, the US would greatly reduce its need for such an expansive military force, subsequently reducing the amount of fossil fuel needed to power such an expansive military force.” Angel Nwadibia, Rising Freshman at Yale University, Greenbelt, Maryland
“I find it problematic that the US is not taking action on the global threat of the climate crisis, even more so based on the fact that the US is one of the countries emitting the most carbon and contributing the most to the exacerbation of the climate crisis.” Zamir Ticknor, Rising Senior at Marshall High School, Falls Church, Virginia
“Climate change is the most pressing issue of the 21st century. Its detriments are intersectional and exacerbate poverty, food and water insecurity, and child malnutrition. The Trump administration must do something about climate change and start with defunding its military. When the military is given limited funding, it will be wiser about how it implements its money and make more beneficial and conscious decisions.” Jason Samuels, Rising Freshman at Georgia Tech, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 
I had no idea that the U.S. military had a carbon footprint to this scale. I am shocked by the immense implementation of fossil fuels in the military and disgusted by Trump’s administration’s rejection of indisputable science. Going into the future, our country must adapt to a more environmentally geared path and decrease funding to the military.” Anonymous, rising Freshman at McLean High School, McLean, Virginia
“This just goes to show the absurd funding our military receives and how it abuses these funds to harm the environment. The Trump administration MUST face the facts and face the reality of climate change before it gets too late.” Anonymous, rising Senior at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, McLean, Virginia