The U.S. Military Is a Bad Boy When It Comes To Climate Change

As we look forward to 2022, one of the biggest issues to tackle is climate change. Discussions like COP26 have already started to get the ball rolling for many governments and private organizations. While governments are quick to promise significant change to emission levels, one thing they are slow to fix is their own militaries. It’s also difficult for global powers, like the UN, to hold a country’s military accountable for emission rates. It’s up to that individual country to make the much-needed changes.

The US military in particular is the biggest offender. Studies have shown that if the U.S. military was its own country, it would be the top global emitter of greenhouse gasses.


Background: Burn Everything!

While this isn’t a surprise, what is, is how the military may continue their pollution behaviors. Early in December of 2021, the U.S. Senate passed a bill called the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). While sounding rather dry, and the whole UFO bit aside, this act authorizes $768.2 billion in military spending, which is $25 billion over the fiscal budget proposed by U.S. President Joe Biden. This increase in the budget not only means more emissions but also more fossil fuels used by the department itself.

Analysis: The Military Needs To Go Green

With its numerous bases and multitudes of jets, trucks, and drones, the U.S. military is the top fossil fuel user within the federal government. A 2019 study showed that the military’s fossil fuel use was so bad that it surpassed consumption rates in both Denmark and Sweden. Historically, the U.S. military has been known to be a major climate change villain. From nuclear bomb tests in Nevada to toxic chemical experiments, the military has only evolved the way it’s polluted the environment. And only its own government can stop it.

The NDAA, while encouraging more emissions, also has some stipulations that could help tackle climate change. The Act requires the Defense Department to report the total emissions for the last decade. However, this is something that the Defense Department already has been doing, as they recently claimed to be one of the most “transparent militaries in the world.” They also provided a portfolio of sustainable and more efficient buildings and clean energy projects.

But these claims are not enough, as the military has been excluded from the green requirements placed on all other federal government departments. These requirements include 100% clean electricity by 2030, and to have net-zero emissions by 2050. While these goals will no doubt help tackle climate change, the impact will be minimized as the military is not included.

Outlook: We Get It, You Like to Blow Stuff Up. Just Not the Planet Please…

It is clear that the U.S. military needs to clean up its act when it comes to climate change. A shift in perspective is in order, as they currently view climate change as a national security threat, rather than something preventable. From switching to electric planes or electric cars to working on maximizing efficiency, there are many things the U.S. military can do to fix their past damage. It just boils down to doing better and actually trying.

Kenna Castleberry is the Science Communicator at JILA and a staff writer at The Quantum Daily and The Deep Tech Insider. She has written various pieces on diversity in deep tech, covering stories from underrepresented communities, as well as discussing how science fiction contributes to the reputations of deep technologies. Follow her on Twitter @kennaculture