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Elephant In The Room: The Pentagon’s Massive Carbon Footprint


It’s not news that climate change threatens the security of every person on planet Earth. The Union of Concerned Scientists predicts 6-16 inches of sea level rise by the year 2050. The threat is apparent in the Marshall Islands, which just set its own ambitious goal for reducing carbon emissions in the wake of catastrophic storms and coastal flooding in the South Pacific. The threat is apparent in California, where prolonged drought has led to wildfires like the one that crossed a busy highway and caused several vehicles to explode in flames. The threat of weather extremes is apparent in Sydney, Australia, which saw snowfall this winter for the first time since 1836.

What is news: the Pentagon’s enormous, unacknowledged contribution to climate change.

According to its own study, in 2013 the Pentagon consumed fuel equivalent to 90,000,000 barrels of crude oil. This amounts to 80% of the total fuel usage by the federal government. If burned as jet fuel it produces about 38,700,000 metric tons of CO2. And the Pentagon’s figures do not include carbon produced by the thousands of bombs dropped in 2013, or the fires that burned after the jets and drones departed.

Corporate media reports on alarming climate change never mention the Pentagon. Newspapers and television stations run puff pieces on air shows like the Navy’s Blue Angels without noting that the jets from a typical show generate about 300,000 pounds of CO2 into the air. A photographer at the Great Maine Air Show in 2012 captured a runway covered with a wall of flames that organizers said was a “simulated bombing.” Carbon generated by burning napalm for entertainment? Unknown.

But air shows, halftime shows and other displays produce just a bit of the Pentagon’s carbon footprint. With thousands of military bases, fleets of aircraft, trucks and transport ships, legions of contractors and a seemingly endless supply of weapons the Pentagon spews carbon 24/7. And don’t forget the carbon load for cooling the warehouses filled with surveillance equipment used by the Pentagon’s National Security Administration (NSA).

But who’s counting? According to a study conducted by Project Censored:
“During the Kyoto Accords negotiations in December 1997, the US demanded as a provision of signing that any and all of its military operations worldwide, including operations in participation with the UN and NATO, be exempted from measurement or reductions. After attaining this concession, the Bush administration then refused to sign the accords and the US Congress passed an explicit provision guaranteeing the US military exemption from any energy reduction or measurement.”

The Pentagon is also exempt from an executive order by President Obama requiring other federal agencies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2020.

Why is the Pentagon not called out on its climate crimes by environmental advocacy groups? Naomi Klein’s groundbreaking book This Changes Everything described in detail the planet’s CO2 problem but devoted only two sentences to the Pentagon’s contributing role. None of’s educational materials refer to the branch of government that uses more than 3/4 of its fuel. Nor does climate action group Rising Tide make any reference to the Pentagon’s role in causing climate change.

Why is the Pentagon not called out on its climate crimes by the corporate media? Searching turns up a handful of articles reporting that the Pentagon is concerned about running out of fuel and looking to develop more sustainable energy sources, but nothing about its unregulated soiling of the planet’s atmosphere.

In the militarized 21st century, where “security” is always seen as under threat, the Pentagon gets a pass. But the disruptions caused by climate change pose a real and present threat to security for everyone on the planet. The Department of Defense acknowledged this in its own recent study, but its focus of concern was quelling civil unrest expected when populations are forced to relocate as the seas continue rising.

World citizens have a right to demand accountability for the Pentagon’s contribution to climate change that threatens their health, their security and in many cases their livelihood. U.S. taxpayers have a right to demand accountability for how they fund carbon pollution without meaningful oversight from Congress, the White House, or the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

And environmental activists have a duty to stop ignoring the carbon belching elephant in the room.

Lisa Savage is a CODEPINK coordinator in Maine who blogs at

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