Who will take Pentagon to task for its massive carbon footprint?

Wang Xinjuan
2022-09-28 22:33:54

Nadim Siraj

A power station along the Allegheny River still burns coal to produce electricity for the region in northeastern Pittsburgh in Cheswick, Pennsylvania, U.S., June 7, 2021. /CFP

Editor's note: Nadim Siraj, author of "Secret Notes from Iran: Diary of an Undercover Journalist," is an India-based journalist who writes about conflict and current affairs. The article reflects the author's opinions and not necessarily those of CGTN.

The U.S. loves to project itself as the savior of the planet while its belligerent military does precisely the opposite – wage wars, bully opponents, and destabilize governments it doesn't agree with.

This story of American double standards is no different when it comes to the fight against climate change. The U.S. government typically resorts to grandstanding on its climate stance, taking a moral high ground while calling for corrective action. Yet, the White House is always silent on the Pentagon's enormous contribution to climate change.

The U.S. defense department, which runs the world's largest and most aggressive military, is known to be the single biggest institutional polluter and emitter of carbon dioxide on Earth.

Enormous carbon footprint

Not known to many people due to scant coverage in the Western press, the Pentagon's carbon footprint is estimated to be higher than that of 140 countries combined. The U.S. military soaks in more fossil fuels and spews more greenhouse gases than most medium-sized nations.

The Pentagon is arguably the single biggest consumer of energy in America and the planet's biggest institutional user of petroleum. Since 2001, when the U.S. launched the war on terror to avenge the 9/11 terror attacks, the defense department has been responsible for nearly 80 percent of the U.S. government's total energy use.

An estimate from 2017 gives us a sense of scale of the U.S. military's fossil fuel use. That year alone, the defense department purchased nearly 270,000 barrels of oil every day, and released over 25,000 kilotons of carbon dioxide by guzzling it.

The U.S.-based Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, which tracks the Pentagon's carbon footprint, discovered that from 2001 to 2018, the U.S. military's greenhouse gas emissions totaled 1.27 billion metric tons. These emissions included an estimated 440 million metric tons resulting from war-related fuel consumption, spanning the U.S. military's interventionist acts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Pakistan. The biggest chunk of the Pentagon's fossil fuel consumption goes to military jets.

Washington's silence

It is baffling and appalling that the U.S. government doesn't notice the elephant in the room, for reasons perhaps we won't know. Instead, it is busy rolling out calls-to-action for governments around the world, sermonizing them to cut emissions and pull up their socks in the race to save the planet.

The U.S. military, piloted by the defense department operating from its Pentagon headquarters, feeds on a taxpayer-funded budget of over $750 billion, employs nearly three million service members, and straddles 4,800 official sites in more than 160 countries.

America's war machinery has around 750 bases in dozens of countries around the world. The U.S. military is a massive network consisting of jets, cargo planes, trucks, jeeps, tanks, ships, carriers, missiles, equipment, gadgets, firearms, drones, bullets, bombs, bases, humanitarian aid, gear for personnel, and supply chains. To make all of this work, the Pentagon guzzles fossil fuel like no other military establishment in the world.

Biden's climate Bill

In August, U.S. President Joe Biden signed a bill aimed at tackling the climate emergency. The Bill, which commits $375 billion towards the fight against climate change, focuses on U.S. plans to turn towards renewable energy.

U.S. President Joe Biden walks back to the Oval Office after speaking in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, September 15, 2022. /CFP

But it doesn't address how to rein in the single biggest contributor to climate change. Neither the Pentagon's carbon footprint nor the need to shrink its fossil fuel use is directly addressed by the bill.

The U.S. defense department enjoys so much immunity from climate-related criticism that it is exempted from even appearing, and therefore getting grilled, in crunch talks at international events on climate change.

Surely, the Biden administration can take the Pentagon to task if it wants to, or at least openly address its enormous carbon footprint and subsequent impact on climate change.

The closest the U.S. went to being questioned over the Pentagon's carbon credentials was in November last year when journalist Abby Martin tossed the uncomfortable question at U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi during a press event for the COP26 climate summit.

Martin asked Pelosi how Washington could seriously talk about net-zero emissions if there was bipartisan consensus to approve a further increase of a massive Pentagon budget. In her response, Pelosi tried to beat about the bush before finally confessing that America's dependence on fossil fuels "exacerbates the climate crisis."

A convenient spin

The U.S. military has given the climate change debate a convenient spin to justify its bloated presence. As out of place as it sounds, the Pentagon said in June that the climate crisis has serious national security implications. In a far cry from admitting it has a ballooning carbon footprint, the defense department said climate change was "dramatically increasing the demand for military operations."

History has taught us that wars, interventions, arms race, and excess militarization result in a jump in fossil fuel consumption, sparking pollution, triggering emissions, and driving climate change. Since the end of World War II, the Pentagon has been at the forefront of these actions, from the Hiroshima-Nagasaki bombings to troop deployment to misadventures in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria, among other countries, to militarized build-ups around China and Russia.

American writer Barry Sanders, author of The Green Zone: The Environmental Costs of Militarism, once said, "Even if every person, every automobile, and every factory suddenly emitted zero emissions, the earth would still be headed – head first and at full speed – towards total disaster for one major reason: the U.S. military."

In Indian folklore, there is a saying: "Those who pretend to be asleep cannot be woken from their slumber." The saying encapsulates Washington's decision not to acknowledge the elephant in the room.

The U.S. government has laid out its cards on the table: climate change must be tackled at once, but the Pentagon needs to be shielded from the conversation. Why? Is it because reining in an oversized military will get in the way of America's imperialist agenda?

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