Is the Pentagon’s super-pollutant climate plan just ‘military-grade greenwashing’? | US Army

The US military, an institution whose carbon footprint exceeds that of nearly 140 countries, says it wants to go green.

On February 8, the US military released its climate strategy.

Among other tactics, the military is aiming for net-zero emissions by 2050, electrifying its combat and non-tactical vehicles, powering its bases with “carbon-free” electricity, and developing clean global supply chains.

Wars, like the one Russia unleashed against Ukraine, are hugely polluting, and while the military’s plan will drastically reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, experts say it doesn’t. enough.

“The Department of Defense, the entity that is America’s war machine, is the largest institutional contributor to global warming on planet Earth,” said David Vine, professor of political anthropology at the American University in Washington. DC. “And the army doesn’t recognize it.”

It specifies, at least, that it is necessary to reduce its “impact on the planet”. The Army Climate Strategy (ACS) admits, for example, that the US military’s annual electricity expenditure of nearly $740 million created 4.1 million tonnes of greenhouse gases in 2020, or 1 million tonnes more than the greenhouse gas emissions generated by the Swiss heat and power sector in 2017. .

Although the ACS reflects the Pentagon’s serious new stance on the climate crisis, which it has identified as a security threat, critics say the plan misses several crucial details.

It lacks accountability mechanisms, for one thing, said Doug Weir, director of research and policy at the Conflict and Environment Observatory. “We have to make sure that control mechanisms are in place. Otherwise, it’s just military-grade greenwash, he said.

The US Army and Military, for example, do not report their fuel consumption to Congress, let alone detail how much fuel was spent, where, or on what war. Most US government accounts of US greenhouse gas emissions omit numbers on the military’s contribution, even via a relatively easy-to-track metric like fuel consumption.

And consuming fuel, it does, in large quantities. A 2019 report found that the Department of Defense is not only the largest consumer of energy in the United States, but also the largest institutional consumer of oil in the world and, therefore, the largest institutional emitter. of greenhouse gases in the world. Between 2001 and 2017, the DoD was responsible for emitting 1.2 billion metric tons of greenhouse gases, equivalent to the annual emissions of 257 million cars. This year, it is expected to burn 82.3 million barrels of fuel, more than Finland’s total oil consumption.

The plan aims to reduce that number — but a more effective way for the US military to cope with the scale and pace of its carbon footprint is to simply do less, said Neta Crawford, political scientist and co-director of the project. Costs of War from Brown University. .

She points to the fact that the US military has about 800 installations in 80 countries and another 740 bases on national soil, of which about 315 are military installations. Yet, by its own admission, the Pentagon says the US military is operating a third more bases than it needs – it calls this “excess base capacity”.

“Much greater savings can be achieved by simply closing a base rather than making a base unnecessarily more energy efficient,” Vine said.

Three Kuwaiti refugees make their way to Kuwait from the Iraqi border in March 1991 as oil wells burn. Photograph: David Longstreath/AP

However, even this kind of thinking would probably not be enough to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions of the armed forces as much as necessary. The military’s impact on climate “is not just about the environmental footprint of the military itself, it’s also about how operations are conducted and how wars are fought,” he said. Stefan Smith, coordinator of the Disasters and Conflicts subprogramme of the United Nations Environment Programme. .

“War is, by nature, destructive.”

Post-war reconstruction, for example, uses a large amount of resources. Clearing rubble and rebuilding from the destruction of infrastructure is a long and carbon-intensive process, according to Hassan Partow, UNEP program manager.

“The amount of trucking and emissions that would be required to remove this debris is equivalent to traveling from Earth to the Moon many times over,” he said, referring to the cleanups needed in Iraq.

War also degrades the land, altering and reducing its capacity to sequester carbon. “The legacy of land degradation in Iraq shows that when you change the land and change the soils, it changes the amount of carbon it can store,” Weir said. To what extent is unclear, as it is rarely, if ever, studied. But soil erosion leads to carbon loss, and desertification and degradation reduce the land’s ability to hold carbon – all of this likely happened in Iraq, particularly in what was once swampland.

“We know so little” about the amount of land destroyed in this case, Weir said. “No one is really following it or documenting it.” He thinks the environmental changes created by these conflicts contribute even more to the climate crisis than the emissions caused by the fighting.

Of course, the fights don’t help. Some of the first targets in conflict zones are oil infrastructure and power plants, Partow said. The US military has frequently targeted oil tankers in Syria and last week Russian missiles attacked a number of oil and gas installations in Ukraine. The resulting fires give rise to high emissions. “In the case of Iraq…people couldn’t see the sun from all the shows,” Partow added. US emissions increased dramatically after the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But even non-violent conflict triggers other emissions.

“When the United States acts to increase its presence in Asia and the Pacific, it alerts the Chinese to the American presence – and it responds by manufacturing more weapons which, in turn, produce more emissions,” said said Crawford.

What can be done? Rather than viewing the climate emergency merely as a security threat to be trained for, suggests Crawford, the US military should help reduce the emergency itself and the instability it will bring.

“A much better strategy than preparing for a war caused by climate change is to prevent a war caused by climate change,” Crawford said.

Federal and military budget priorities may also need to change, according to Lindsay Koshgarian, program director at the National Priorities Project. The White House is expected to request a military budget of more than $770 billion for the next fiscal year.

An M60-A3 tank is deployed in US-Taiwanese exercises in September 2021.
An M60-A3 tank is deployed in US-Taiwanese exercises in September 2021. Photography: Daniel Ceng Shou-Yi/ZUMA Press Wire/REX/Shutterstock

“As long as we continue to invest this amount in the military, we won’t have the resources to deal with climate change,” Koshgarian said.

Even so, the ACS is considered an important document. “It reflects a long-standing concern of the US military – which has actually been much more progressive and advanced than most of the rest of the US government – about global warming and climate change,” Vine said.

The decision to electrify military vehicles, for example, is significant in the incentive it gives manufacturers to produce more electric vehicles and lower their costs in the rest of the country, Crawford said.

The Department of Defense will also integrate climate risks into its future strategies, including the expected National Defense Strategy, according to Richard Kidd, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Environment and Energy Resilience. A “comprehensive” climate mitigation and sustainability plan will be released in the fall, he said.

However, the concern remains that these strategies will only address the symptoms, and only marginally. Although the ACS emphasizes the need to act “now” – it says so four times in the document – the goals are set for 20 years.

For Koshgarian, plans like ACS raise a larger question: can military goals, such as land dominance backed by a large military, American or otherwise, be sustainable?

“There is no sustainable fast fashion. And there is no lasting global military hegemony.

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