The military’s carbon bootprint


PHOTO/© Robert Sullivan

As the biggest single user of fossil fuels, why is the military exempt from the climate discussion?

There is no question that, across the planet, the biggest user of fossil fuels is the military. All those fighter jets, tanks, naval vessels, air transport vehicles, Jeeps, helicopters, humvees, and drones burn massive amounts of diesel, and gas daily, creating vast carbon emissions. So you’d think that discussions about the climate emergency would focus on the military’s carbon bootprint, or at least place it at the top of concerns.

But you would be wrong. Aside from a few lonely voices, the military is seemingly exempt from the climate discussion.

That was vividly apparent in December 2019, when the NATO summit coincided with the opening of COP25 in Spain. The NATO summit focused almost entirely on the Trump administration’s harangue that NATO members aren’t spending nearly enough on military weapons. Meanwhile, COP25 focused on “carbon markets” and nations falling behind in their commitments to the 2015 Paris Accord.

Those two “silos” should have been combined to reveal the absurd premise operating behind both: that somehow the climate emergency can be met without de-escalating the military. But as we shall see, that discussion is forbidden at the highest levels.

Canada’s Military Spending

That same disconnect was apparent during the 2019 Canadian federal election, which we were told was all about the climate. But throughout the campaign, as far as I could determine, not a single mention was made of the fact that the Trudeau Liberal government has promised a whopping $62 billion in “new funding” for the military, raising Canada’s military spending to more than $553 billion over the next 20 years. That new funding includes $30 billion for 88 new fighter jets and 15 new warships by 2027.

Bids to build those 88 new jet fighters must be submitted by Spring 2020, with Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Saab in fierce competition for the Canadian contracts.

Interestingly, Postmedia News has reported that of the top two contenders, Boeing’s Super Hornet fighter jet “costs about $18,000 [USD] an hour to operate compared to the [Lockheed Martin] F-35 which costs $44,000” per hour.

Lest readers assume that military pilots are paid CEO-level salaries, it’s important to state that all military hardware is horrifying fuel-inefficient, contributing to those high operating costs. Boston University’s Neta Crawford, co-author of a 2019 report entitled Pentagon Fuel Use, Climate Change, and the Costs of War, has noted that fighter jets are so fuel-inefficient that fuel use is measured in “gallons per mile” not miles per gallon, so “one plane can get five gallons per mile.” Similarly, according to Forbes, a tank like the M1 Abrams gets about 0.6 miles per gallon.

The Pentagon’s Fuel Use

According to the Costs of War report from the Watson Institute at Brown University, the US Department of Defence is “the single largest user” of fossil fuels in the world, and “the single largest producer of greenhouse gases (GHG) in the world.” That statement was echoed in a similar 2019 study issued by Oliver Belcher, Benjamin Neimark, and Patrick Bigger from Durham and Lancaster Universities, called Hidden Carbon Costs of the ‘Everywhere War’. Both reports noted that “existing military aircraft and warships [are] locking the US military into hydrocarbons for years to come.” The same could be said of other countries (like Canada) that are buying the military hardware.

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