If the U.S. military were a country, it would be the 47th largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world, slightly more than the entire country of Portugal. In fact, the U.S. military is one of the largest polluters in history, consuming more liquid fuels and emitting more climate-changing gases than most medium-sized countries.
That’s according to a new study, conducted by researchers at the U.K.’s Lancaster University and Durham University, which looked at the massive carbon footprint of the U.S. armed forces as they travel around the globe defending freedom, fighting terror, and re-enacting scenes from Team America: World Police. The planet, it seems, might turn out to be one more cost of war.
Of course, getting accurate data on the U.S. military’s carbon footprint is extremely difficult. The U.S. got a military exemption on emissions reporting in the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. While that loophole was closed by the Paris Accord, the Trump administration plans to withdraw from the accord in 2020. For now, though, the numbers are available for those willing to doggedly pursue Freedom of Information Act requests.
And they are not good: According to the researchers, as reported in the Conversation, fueling the U.S. military, one of the largest in history, is a costly proposition for taxpayers and the planet. In 2017, the military bought about 269,230 barrels of oil a day, which, when burned, emitted more than 25,000 kilotonnes of carbon dioxide. The biggest fuel buyer was the U.S. Air Force, which purchased $4.9 billion worth of fuel, followed by the U.S. Navy ($2.8 billion), the U.S. Army ($947 million) and the Marines ($36 million).
The military doesn’t deny the threat of the climate emergency. In fact, it admitted that it poses “immediate risks” to national security and called it a “threat multiplier.” That was in 2014 in a very different administration.
Since then, the military hasn’t done all that much to curb their emissions. While the Pentagon has invested in the development of biofuels and uses renewable electricity on some bases, it’s hardly enough to make up for the fact that it is the single largest institutional consumer of hydrocarbons in the world and emits more greenhouse gasses than 140 countries.