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

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.