The biggest obstacle that the Pentagon poses to not exceeding the 1.5 deg C warming target is not its own GHG emissions (likely less than 1% of the world’s total) but its role as the enforcement arm of the Military Industrial complex and its imperialist regime change agenda. This obstaclestands in the way of achieving the global cooperation needed to meet the IPCC goal, along with the $2 trillion a year now going to the global military expenditures.
To be sure, it is imperative to confront the challenge of military GHG emissions, still not included in the COP process:
“To begin to plug the military emissions gap, states should put military emissions on the table at COP27. They must also commit to improving the standard, scope, frequency and transparency of their reporting. This commitment must be backed by pledges for meaningful, credible and verifiable cuts to their emissions.“ (https://militaryemissions.org/solution/)
Further, the global negative impact of military-generated pollution is immense. For example, military-derived forever chemicals (Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, “PFAS”) have contaminated ground and surface waters around the world, resulting in unsafe levels in fish and seafood because of bioconcentration (https://www.militarypoisons.org), with growing evidence of harm to human health, such as suppression of the immune system (Beans, 2021).
Indeed, while military GHG emissions are greater than many countries, many articles posted on social media exaggerate the military’s contribution to global GHG emissions. For example,
“The world’s militaries combined, and the industries that provide their equipment, are estimated to create 6% of all global emissions, according to Scientists for Global Responsibility (SGR).” (Ambrose, 2021, citing Parkinson, 2020)
Crawford (2019)’s report gives an estimate for the Pentagon of 1.267 billion metric tons of GHGCO2 equivalent emissions(including installations and operations)since the beginning of the “Global War on Terror” in 2001 through 2017. This corresponds to no more than 0.17% of the cumulative total of global GHGCO2 equivalent emissions in that period equal to 763.2 Gt GHGCO2 equivalent emissions (Olivier and Peters, 2020, Table B.1, p.70). Adding the contribution of U.S. war manufacturing for the same period of 2.6 billion metric tons of GHGCO2 equivalent emissions (p.20, Crawford, 2019), the total Pentagon GHG emissions from 2001 through 2017 amounted to 0.5% of the cumulative global total GHG emissions. However, if non-military related manufacturing had substituted for military in this period, focused on for example civilian infrastructure, namely bridges, urban housing, rail and public transport, roughly the same emissions would have occurred as from the military manufacturing sector. Further, degrowth of the MIC will entail in a global GND a shift of material resources, such as steel to peaceful development of infrastructure. And the termination of fossil fuels with a renewable energy transition has the potential of eliminating GHG emissions in particular in steel and concrete production in a demilitarized world (Schwartzman and Schwartzman, 2019).
This confirms the point we made in our book:
“Military spending and the MIC’s [Military Industrial Complex] Imperial Agenda are the critical obstacles posed by the MIC, not the sizable, but widely exaggerated greenhouse gas emissions of the Pentagon itself” (p.101, Schwartzman and Schwartzman, 2019)
Global military expenditures are now close to $2 trillion/year with the U.S. responsible for half this total. As a recent Science Editorial put it “To solve climate, first achieve peace” (Thorp, 2022). This Editorial pointed to the imperative need of U.S./China collaboration, now being undermined by the U.S. cold war against China.
Ambrose, Tom (2021) “World’s militaries avoiding scrutiny over emissions, scientists say”,
November 11, The Guardian.
Beans, Carolyn (2021) How “forever chemicals” might impair the immune system. PNAS 118, No. 15, e2105018118. doi: 10.1073/pnas.2105018118.
Crawford, Neta C. (2019) Pentagon Fuel Use, Climate Change, and the Costs of War, https://watson.brown.edu/costsofwar/papers/ClimateChangeandCostofWar/.
Olivier, J.G.J.. and J.A.H.W. Peters (2020) Trends in global CO2and total greenhouse gas emissions: 2020 Report, PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency The Hague, PBL publication number: 4331
Parkinson, Stuart (2020) The carbon boot-print of the military. Responsible Science No.2, Winter. 18-20, https://www.sgr.org.uk/resources/carbon-boot-print-military-0.
Schwartzman, Peter and David Schwartzman 2019, The Earth is Not for Sale: A Path Out of Fossil Capitalism to the Other World That is Still Possible. Singapore: World Scientific.
Thorp, H. Holden (2022) To solve climate, first achieve peace. Science376 (6588), doi: 10.1126/science.abq2761.