That “Big Green Meltdown” & The Untouchables

In his June 9 piece for Counterpunch, entitled “Big Green Meltdown Over Planet of the Humans,” Josh Schlossberg revealed the extent to which he was “shunned, censored, slandered and blacklisted” by many environmentalists because of his criticism of biomass energy a decade ago. He relates that experience to what has been happening currently with Big Green attacks on the documentary Planet of the Humans, and he states: “Anyway, my story is just another example of what happens when you bring up topics that aren’t rubber stamped by the mainstream Greens. Which makes you wonder what other issues they’re on the wrong side of and what voices they’re suppressing today.” [1]

As an answer, let me offer a candidate: the military’s carbon bootprint. It’s astonishing how little attention Big Greens have given this issue. I suspect that’s because at the center of it is a climate-change “saint” that nobody wants to alienate or criticize.

The Pentagon’s Fuel Use

In the summer of 2019, two reports came out that drew attention to the Pentagon’s contribution to greenhouse gas emissions. Boston University’s Neta Crawford, co-author of “Pentagon Fuel Use, Climate Change, and the Costs of War,” stated that the U.S. Department of Defense is “the single largest user of fossil fuels in the world” and the “single largest producer of greenhouse gases in the world.” That statement was echoed in a similar 2019 study 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 U.S. military into hydrocarbon fossil fuels use for years to come. The same could be said of the many other countries that are buying the military hardware.

Both reports also stated that in 2017 alone, the U.S. military bought 269,230 barrels of oil per day, and spent more than $8.6 billion on fossil fuel for the Air Force, the Army, the Navy and the Marines.

But that figure of 269,230 barrels per day is only for what’s called “operational” fuel use – training, using and sustaining the weapons hardware – which is about 70 percent of the military’s total fuel use. The figure does not include “institutional” fuel use – the fossil fuels used to maintain the U.S. military’s domestic and foreign bases, which number more than 1,000 around the world and account for at least 30 percent of U.S. military fuel use.

As Gar Smith, editor emeritus of Earth Island Journal, reported in 2016, “The Pentagon has admitted to burning 350,000 barrels of oil per day (only 35 countries in the world consume more)”.

In October 2019, Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR) revealed that those two “costs of war” reports got no mention at all in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, NPR, PBS, ABC , MSNBC, CBS and CNN. [2] Similarly, in Canada there was not a single mention of those studies.

As we shall see, that silence has actually been decades long and was instituted at the highest levels.

The Elephant in the Room

In 2014, a remarkable article was published by the International Action Center and the Global Research website in Montreal. Entitled “The Pentagon: The Climate Elephant,” it was written by Sara Flounders, who wrote: “There is an elephant in the climate debate that by U.S. demand cannot be discussed or even seen.” [3]

That “elephant” is the fact that the Pentagon has a blanket exemption in all international climate agreements. Ever since the Kyoto Protocol negotiations in 1997, in an effort to gain U.S. compliance, all U.S. military operations worldwide and within the U.S. were made exempt from measurement or agreements on greenhouse gas reduction.

At those Kyoto negotiations, which were in preparation for the COP4 climate meeting organized by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the Pentagon insisted upon this “national security provision” – giving it an exemption from reducing (or even reporting) its greenhouse gas emissions. Moreover, the U.S. military insisted in 1998 that at all future formal discussions about climate change, delegates would be prevented from discussing the military’s carbon bootprint. Even if they wanted to discuss that, they could not.

Costs of War author Neta Crawford has provided further clarity about this military exemption. In a July 2019 interview, Crawford stated that the national security provision “specifically exempted military bunker fuels and the military’s activities in war from being counted as part of the overall [greenhouse gas] emissions. That’s for every country,” she said. “No country is required to report those [military] emissions. So it’s not unique [to the U.S.] in that respect.” [4]

So in 1998, the U.S. had obtained an exemption for all countries’ militaries from having to report, or cut, their carbon emissions.

This privileging of war and the military – indeed, the entire military-industrial complex – has largely escaped notice for the past 22 years, even by climate activists. As far as I can determine, no climate negotiator, or politician, or Big Green organization has ever blown the whistle or even mentioned these military exemptions to the press: a ‘cone of silence’ that is baffling.

In fact, according to Canadian researcher Tamara Lorincz, the situation is even more scandalous.

A Very Inconvenient Truth

In 2014, Tamara Lorincz wrote a draft working paper for the Swiss-based International Peace Bureau. The paper was entitled “Demilitarization for Deep Decarbonization.” In it, she wrote that in 1997, “the then-U.S. Vice President Al Gore joined the American negotiating team in Kyoto” and was able to secure the military exemption for the world’s military. [5]

Let’s call that a very inconvenient truth.

Readers may recall that Al Gore was at Davos in January this year, mobilising the global elites to fight the climate crisis. “This is Thermopylae,” he argued. “This is Agincourt. This is the Battle of the Bulge. This is Dunkirk. This is 9/11,” he told them. [6]

This is blatant hypocrisy, I would suggest, and watching everyone go along with it is scandalous.

Perhaps even more baffling, in an op-ed for the New York Review of Books last June, climate activist Bill McKibben (of 350.org) defended the military’s carbon bootprint. He stated that the Pentagon’s “use of energy pales next to that of the civilian population,” and that “the military has actually been doing a not-too-shabby job of driving down its emissions.” [7]

On November 6, 2019 a climate science organization called Universal Ecological Fund issued a report called “The Truth Behind Climate Pledges,” which found that three-quarters of the nations that signed the Paris Agreement (130 of 184 nations) have made pledges that are “inadequate” to meet the climate goals. Sir Robert Watson, former chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and co-author of the report, called the pledges “far too little, too late.” [8]

But as far as I can determine, Sir Watson himself never bothered to blow the whistle on the military exemption during those many years of IPCC climate talks. Maybe if he had, the pledges would have been very different. After all, diplomats and negotiators for most countries would have long known that the largest military in the world is polluting “at a higher rate than more than two-thirds of all countries.” [9] So why should they take on an outsized burden?

At the COP21 meetings that led to the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, a decision was made to allow each nation-state to determine which national sectors should make emissions cuts before 2030. Apparently, most nations have decided that the military exemption –especially for “operational” fuel use – should be maintained. [10]

The military is seemingly “untouchable” when it comes to climate-change discussions, and so far, proposals for a “green new deal” have avoided any detailed mention of the military’s carbon bootprint or what to do about growing militarism. [11] In other words, while the rest of us attempt to transition to a low-carbon future, the military has carte blanche to burn all the fossil fuels it wants.

Meanwhile, Al Gore is apparently too sacrosanct for Big Greens to raise questions about his past role in obtaining the military exemption and his current role in “green” financing as Chair of Generation Investment LLC.

All of this makes me think of something else Sara Flounders wrote back in 2014 when she was exposing the elephant in the room. She noted that unless climate activists at the grassroots level challenge the military exemption, “the movement will be lost in vague generalities, utopian hopes, and toothless accords.” [12]


[1] Josh Schlossberg, “Big Green Meltdown Over Planet of the Humans,” Counterpunch, June 9, 2020.

[2] Joshua Cho, “Major Media Bury Groundbreaking Studies of Pentagon’s Massive Carbon Bootprint,” FAIR, October 10, 2019.

[3] Sara Flounders, “The Pentagon, The Climate Elephant,” International Action Center and Global Research, September 17, 2014.

[45] Interview: The Pentagon’s Carbon Boot Print,” the realnews.com, July 10, 2019.

[5] Tamara Lorincz, “Demilitarization for Deep Decarbo

nization, (Draft Working Paper)” International Peace Bureau, September 2014.

[6] Graeme Wearden, “’This is Dunkirk. This is 9/11’: Al Gore implores Davos to tackle climate crisis,” The Guardian, January 22, 2020.

[7] Bill McKibben, “The Pentagon’s Outsized Part in the Climate Fight,” The New York Review of Books, June 27, 2019.

[8] Douglas Fisher, “Three-quarters of Paris Agreement pledges judged insufficient,” Environmental Health News, November 6, 2019.

[9] AJ Dellinger, “The U.S. military’s greenhouse gas emissions are higher than most countries,” mic.com, June 26, 2019.

[10] Joyce Nelson, “The Military’s Carbon Bootprint,” Watershed Sentinel, January 30, 2020.

[11] Carol Boggs, “Capitalism and the Limits of Greening,” Counterpunch, December 20, 2019.

[12] Flounders, op cit.

More articles by:

Joyce Nelson’s sixth book, Beyond Banksters: Resisting the New Feudalism, can be ordered at: http://watershedsentinel.ca/banksters. She can be reached through www.joycenelson.ca.

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