Climate Change and the U.S. Military - Wolf-PAC

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Climate Change and the U.S. Military

By David Leibowitz

The American military has a budget as large as the next nine countries combined. Whether that’s justified has been a huge subject of debate. However, we’re not here to talk about the usual stuff, but about something that’s related. The military has a lot of planes, tanks, trucks and other sorts of machines. All of these things have something in common: they need fuel to keep going. Just getting around our far-flung empire also takes huge amounts of energy. We have almost 800 bases in 80 countries. The largest emitter of greenhouse gasses in the United States is actually the U.S. military. If the military were a country, it would be around the 31st largest emitter, between Peru and Portugal.

Buying Political Influence

Back up for a second though! Why are we talking about that here on the Daily Wolf? Because military contractors and energy companies give tons of money to politicians to ensure favorable policy outcomes.  Defense contractors have given $15,881,232 to politicians for the 2023–2024 campaign season. The biggest contributor has been Lockheed Martin, which gave a total of $1,753,166 to politicians and various political groups in the 2023–2024 season so far.

Their donations are bipartisan as well. They gave $787,387 to Democrats and  $943,744 to Republicans. As previously discussed on the Daily Wolf, Energy/Natural Resources companies have been making massive donations. These already total $102,188,464 for 2024. The largest contributor is Koch Industries, which gave $1,025,110 to Republicans, though just $710 to Democrats. The third highest contributor is Chevron, which gave the most to Democrats of any Oil Company (though gave more to Republicans). It gave $116,194 to Democrats, while giving $523,921 to Republicans. 

Fundamentally, both Democrats and Republicans are complicit with the military’s greenhouse gas emissions. Since both groups receive tons of money from military contractors, they will not question what the military is doing. Though Democrats receive much less than Republicans, they get enough to be meek in their efforts to push for greenhouse gas reduction overall.

Exempt from the Kyoto Protocol

So what are the details of the  problem here? For one, emissions from military jets were exempted from the two biggest and most recent climate-change agreements, the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement. This indicates the huge influence military contractors have on these international negotiations. Although we can never fully know how much the U.S. military actually emits, the best estimate at the moment is from the Conflict and Environment Observatory, which calculates that it’s about 5.5% of all human-caused emissions. This makes the military itself a national security threat. Though the media provides much commentary on how Russia’s invasion of Ukraine causes greater emissions, not so much about emissions by the U.S. military.

Let’s consider some details on emissions by the military. In 2017 the U.S. military bought around 269,230 barrels of oil (emitting 25,375.8 kt CO2 equivalent) a day or 98,268,950 barrels a year (9,262,167 kt CO2e) a year. The largest of this comes from the Air Force which pollutes 13,202.4 kt CO2e a day or 4,818,876 kt CO2e a year, which is twice as much as the U.S. Navy’s 7,847.8 kt CO2e a day or 2,864,447 kt a year. So jet fuel accounts for huge amounts of carbon dioxide going into the atmosphere. As one of the largest jets, the B2 bomber produces a quarter kiloton of CO2 (251.4 metric tons) per tank of fuel. This on top of all the energy used by tanks, military bases, and other vehicles and equipment which again adds up to being 5.5% of the world’s CO2 contributions.

The Threat to National Security

However, U.S. military leadership isn’t known for climate denialism: they’ve openly identified climate change as a national security issue and are preparing for the effects of climate change, such as rising sea levels, more powerful storms, and climate-induced mass migrations. They have stated that it is a threat on their website. Yet, the military insists on being exempt from having their emissions counted. People must do something about this issue, but neither the military nor the oil companies is likely to help out.

The Solution

The numbers quoted above are staggering. So what can we do? Regardless of whether you think that we rely too much on military action, or that military spending is out of hand, you’ll agree that we should hold politicians accountable for their policy decisions. Those making the largest donations should not be making these decisions. An amendment to control campaign financing is the solution. Only with such an amendment can we rein in the outsized influence of military contractors and oil companies.

Please consider pitching in. You can make a donation, or volunteer your time. You can be part of the solution!


The Wolf-PAC all-volunteer Comms Team helped produced this work, including editing by Brian Martel.


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