US Military—A Massive, Hidden Contributor to Climate Crisis

by Vins
Published: Last Updated on

The US military is “one of the largest polluters in history, consuming more liquid fuels and emitting more climate-changing gases than most medium-sized countries,” Benjamin Neimark, Oliver Belcher, Patrick Bigger reported for The Conversation in June 2019. By burning fossil fuels, the US military emitted more than 25,000 kilotons of carbon dioxide in 2017. If the US military were a country, Neimark, Belcher, and Bigger wrote, its fuel usage would make it “the 47th largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world.”

Noting that studies of greenhouse gas emissions usually focus on how much energy and fuel civilians use, Neimark, Belcher, and Bigger wrote that US military emissions “tend to be overlooked in climate change studies.” Nevertheless, they reported, “Significant reductions to the Pentagon’s budget and shrinking its capacity to wage war would cause a huge drop in demand from the biggest consumer of liquid fuels in the world.”

Neimark, Belcher, and Bigger’s report for The Conversation summarized key findings from a research article they published in the Transactions of the British Institute of Geographers, a peer-reviewed academic journal, in June 2019. In the study, they examined how US military supply chains impact the world’s climate, by analyzing bulk fuel purchases, as documented by the US Defense Logistics Agency–Energy (DLA‐E). A sub‐agency of the US Department of Defense, the DLA-E manages “the US military’s supply chains, including its hydrocarbon fuel purchases and distribution.” The authors obtained data on US military fuel purchases through multiple Freedom of Information Act requests to the DLA-E.

“It’s very difficult to get consistent data from the Pentagon and across US government departments,” Neimark, Belcher, and Bigger wrote. A loophole in the 1997 Kyoto Protocol exempted the US from reporting military emissions. Although the Paris Accord closed this loophole, Neimark, Belcher, and Bigger noted that, “with the Trump administration due to withdraw from the accord in 2020, this gap will return.”

Noting that “action on climate change demands shuttering vast sections of the military machine,” Neimark, Belcher, and Bigger recommended that “money spent procuring and distributing fuel across the US empire” be reinvested as “a peace dividend, helping to fund a Green New Deal in whatever form it might take.”

As of December 2019, the original report by Neimark, Belcher, and Bigger appears to have received no corporate news coverage, with the exception of news aggregator Yahoo! News. Independent news outlets, including YES! Magazine, The Ecologist, and Quartz, republished the original article from The Conversation.

Source: Benjamin Neimark, Oliver Belcher, Patrick Bigger, “US Military Is a Bigger Polluter Than as Many as 140 Countries—Shrinking This War Machine Is a Must,” The Conversation, June 24, 2019,

Student Researcher: Fabiola Gregg (City College of San Francisco)

Faculty Evaluator: Jennifer Levinson (City College of San Francisco)

Editor’s Note:  For previous Project Censored coverage of the US military, pollution,  and the environment, see “US Department of Defense is the Worst Polluter on the Planet,” story #2 from Censored 2011; “Drinking Water Contaminated by Military and Corporations,” story #17 from Censored 2008; “U.S. Military’s War on the Earth,” story #15 from Censored 2004; “The U.S. Military’s Toxic Legacy to America,” story #14 from 1990; “Military Toxic Waste Sites: More Dangerous & Not EPA Regulated,” story #2 from 1986; and “USAF “Toxic Soup” Leaves a Lethal Taste in the Nation’s Mouth,” story #14 from 1987.