US Military Is Fueling Climate Crisis — It Emits More Carbon Than 140 Nations

Monday saw protestors demonstrate outside the U.N. Climate Summit in Glasgow, highlighting the role of the U.S. Military in fueling the climate crisis. According to the Costs of War project, the military produced approximately 1.2 billion metric tonnes of carbon dioxide between 2001 and 2017, nearly a third of which came from wars fought overseas by the United States. After lobbying from the United States, military carbon emissions have been exempted largely from international climate treaties dating back from the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. We go to Glasgow to speak with Ramón Mejía, anti-militarism national organizer of Grassroots Global Justice Alliance and Iraq War veteran; Erik Edstrom, Afghanistan War veteran turned climate activist; and Neta Crawford, director of the Costs of War project. “The United States military has been a mechanism of environmental destruction,” says Crawford.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN:Barack Obama, former president of the United States, addressed the U.N. climate summit Monday. He criticised the leaders in China and Russia for their failure to attend the talks in Glasgow.

BARACK OBAMA:Many countries have not been as ambitious as they should be. We have not seen the same escalation or the same ratcheting up in ambitions that we saw in Paris six years back. I have to confess, it was particularly discouraging to see the leaders of two of the world’s largest emitters, China and Russia, decline to even attend the proceedings. Their national plans so far show what appears to be a dangerous lack in urgency, a willingness for the continuation of the status quoThese governments are guilty of this. And that’s a shame.

AMY GOODMAN: While Obama singled out China and Russia, climate justice activists openly criticized President Obama for failing to deliver on climate pledges he made as president and for his role overseeing the world’s largest military. This is Mitzi Tan, Filipina activist.

MITZI TAN: I definitely think that President Obama is a disappointment, because he lauded himself as the Black president who cared about the people of color, but if he did, he wouldn’t have failed us. He wouldn’t have let this happen. He wouldn’t have killed people with drone strikes. This is linked to the climate crisis because the U.S. military has been one of the largest polluters and is causing the climate crisis. And so there are so many things that President Obama and the U.S. has to do in order to really claim that they are the climate leaders that they’re saying they are.

AMY GOODMAN: Speakers at last week’s large Fridays for Future rally in Glasgow also called out the U.S. military’s role in the climate emergency.

AYISHA SIDDIQA:My name is Ayisha Syediqa. I am from the northern region of Pakistan. … The U.S. Department of Defense has a larger annual carbon footprint than most countries on Earth, and it also is the single largest polluter on Earth. The United States’ military presence in my region has resulted in a loss of $8 trillion over the past 26 years. It has contributed to the destruction and devastation of the environment in Afghanistan, Iraq Iran, the greater Persian Gulf, Pakistan, and Iran. Not only have they caused an increase in carbon emissions but they also led to the use of depleted Uranium. They have poisoned water and caused birth defects, cancer, and the suffering of thousands.

AMY GOODMAN:According to the Costs of War project, the U.S. military emitted around 1.2 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide between 2001 and 2017, nearly a third of which came from wars abroad, including those in Afghanistan and Iraq. According to one estimate, the U.S. military pollutes more than 140 countries, which includes many industrialized nations like Sweden, Denmark, and Portugal.

However, the United States has successfully lobbyed to exempt military carbon emissions from international climate treaties that date back to 1997, the Kyoto Protocol. The time was dominated by a group of neoconservatives that included the future vice president, and then-Halliburton. CEODick Cheney, advocated for exempting all military emissions.

On Monday, climate activists staged a demonstration outside the United Nations. COPHighlighting the U.S. military’s role in the climate crisis.

We’re joined now by three guests. Inside the U.N. climate summit, Ramón Mejía joins us, the anti-militarism national organizer of Grassroots Global Justice Alliance. He’s an Iraq War vet. We’re also joined by Erik Edstrom, who fought in the Afghan War and later studied climate change at Oxford. He’s the author of Un-American: A Soldier’s Reckoning of Our Longest War. He’s joining us from Boston. Neta Crawford is also joining us in Glasgow. She’s with the Costs of War project at Brown University. She’s a professor at Boston University. She’s just outside the COP.

We are glad to have you as part of our family. Democracy Now! Ramón Mejía, let’s begin with you. You took part in protests at the COPOutside the COP. How did you get from an Iraq War veteran to a climate justice activist.

RAMÓN MEJÍA:Amy, thank you so much for having me.

I was part of the invasion in Iraq in 2003. As part of that invasion, which was a crime, I was able to witness the sheer destruction of Iraq’s infrastructure, of its water treatment plants, of sewage. And it was something that I couldn’t live with myself and I couldn’t continue to support. After leaving the military, I felt the need to speak out against U.S. militarism in any form it manifests in our communities. In Iraq alone, the Iraqi people have been researching and said that they are — have the worst genetic damage that has ever been studied or researched. As a war veteran, I have a responsibility to speak out against wars and how they impact our people, the environment, and the climate.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Ramón Mejía, what about this issue of the role of the U.S. military in fossil fuel emissions? Did you feel any sense amongst your fellow GIs when you were serving in the military about the enormous environmental damage that the military is causing to the planet?

RAMÓN MEJÍA: When I was in the military, there wasn’t any discussion about the chaos that we were creating. I was responsible for resupply convoys across the country. I delivered munitions, tanks, and repaired parts. I saw absolutely no waste in the process. Even our units were burying munitions in the middle the desert. We were creating toxic fumes from burning trash and this has impacted veterans but also the Iraqi people, and those living near toxic burn pits.

So, the U.S. military, while emissions is important to discuss, and it’s important that within these climate conversations that we address how the militaries are excluded and don’t have to reduce or report emissions, we also have to discuss the violence that the militaries wage on our communities, on the climate, on the environment.

You know, we were there with a delegation, a frontline team of over 60 grassroots leaders. We were under the banner It Takes Roots. This was from Indigenous Environmental Network. From Climate Justice Alliance. From Just Transition Alliance. From Jobs with Justice. We came here to tell you that there is no net zero, no war, and no warming. Many of our community members have seen what the military can offer.

One of our delegates from New Mexico, Southwest Organizing Project, spoke out about the millions and millions of jet fuel that have leaked from Kirtland Air Force Base. More fuel has leaked into the water supplies of neighboring communities that the others than the. Exxon Valdez, and yet those conversations aren’t being had. Another delegate comes from Puerto Rico and Vieques. She tells us about chemical weapons testing and munitions testing that have plagued the island. The U.S. Navy is no more there, but cancer continues to be a problem.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ:Global Witness estimates that there are more than 100 lobbyists from oil, coal, and gas companies and associated groups at COP26. What’s your sense of the impact of the fossil fuel lobby at this gathering?

RAMÓN MEJÍA: There can’t be any genuine discussion about addressing climate change if we’re not including the military. As we all know, the military is the largest consumer and emitter of fossil fuels. It is also responsible for most of the climate disruption. So, when you have fossil fuel industries that have a larger delegation than most of our frontline communities and the Global South, then we’re being silenced. This is not a place for genuine discussions. It’s a discussion for transnational corporations and industry and polluting governments to continue to try and find ways to go as business as usual without actually addressing the roots of the conversation.

This is what you know. COPNet zero has been given the nickname COPIt is not net zero, but it is a false unicorn. It’s a false solution, just the same way as greening the military is. You know, emissions, it’s important that we discuss it, but greening the military is also not the solution. We must address the violence the military causes and the devastating effects it has on the world.

The conversations within the COP aren’t genuine, because we can’t even hold pointed conversations and hold those accountable. We have to speak in generalities. You know, we can’t say “U.S. military”; we have to say “military.” We can’t say that our government is the one that’s most responsible for pollution; we have to speak in generalities. So, when there is this unlevel playing field, then we know that the discussions aren’t genuine here.

Real discussions and real change are happening in the streets with our communities, and international movements that are here not only to discuss but also to apply pressure. This — you know, what is it? We’ve been calling it, that the COPProfiteers are, as you all know, the key word. It’s the convening of profiteers. That’s what it is. And we’re here not to concede this space in which power resides. We’re here to apply pressure, and we’re also here to speak on behalf of our international comrades and movements from around the world that aren’t able to come to Glasgow because of vaccine apartheid and the restrictions that they have on coming to discuss what’s happening in their communities. So we’re here to uplift their voices and to continue to speak on — you know, with them, on what’s happening around the world.

AMY GOODMAN: In addition to Ramón Mejía, we’re joined by yet another Marine Corps vet, and he is Erik Edstrom, Afghan War vet, went on to study climate at Oxford and write the book Un-American: A Soldier’s Reckoning of Our Longest War. If you can talk about — well, I’ll ask you the same question as I asked Ramón. You were a Marine Corps officer. [sic]Veteran. How you became a climate activist and what we need to know about the cost of war at home and overseas. You fought in Afghanistan.

ERIK EDSTROM:Amy, we are grateful.

Yes, I mean, I would be remiss if I didn’t make a brief correction, which is I am an Army officer, or a former Army officer, and don’t want to take heat from my fellow colleagues for being misconstrued as a Marine officer.

My journey to climate activism started when I was in Afghanistan. It was then that I realized that we were trying to solve the wrong problem in the wrong way. We didn’t see the upstream issues that underpin foreign policies around the world. These were the disruptions caused by climate change, which can endanger other communities. It is a geopolitical risk. It was a terrible choice of priorities to focus on Afghanistan and play Taliban whack-amole while ignoring climate crisis.

I knew that I wanted to study the most pressing issue facing my generation, so I immediately completed my military service. And today, when reflecting upon military emissions in the overall accounting globally, it’s not only intellectually dishonest to exclude them, it is irresponsible and dangerous.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Erik, I’d like to ask you about the relationship between oil and the military, the U.S. military but also other imperial militaries around the world. There’s historically been a relationship of militaries seeking to control oil resources in times of war, as well as being the prime users of these oil resources to build up their military capacity, hasn’t there?

ERIK EDSTROM:There have been. Amy and the other speaker did a great job of laying out the facts about the military as the largest institutional user of fossil fuels. I believe that this is what drives some of the decision making in the military. The U.S. military has more emissions than both civilian aviation and shipping. But one of the things I really wanted to drive home in this conversation is around something that’s not discussed very much in the costs of war, which is the social cost of carbon or the negative externalities associated with our global bootprint as a military around the world.

And Amy was right to point out that — citing the Brown University Watson Institute and the 1.2 billion metric tons of estimated emissions from the military during the time of the global war on terror. And when you look at public health studies that start to do the calculus to say how many tonnes must you emit in order to harm somebody elsewhere in the world, it’s about 4,400 tonnes. The global war on terror has possibly caused 270,000 deaths from climate-related causes around the world. This increases and exacerbates the already high cost of war, and strategically undermining the very objectives that NATO is trying to achieve, which are stability and security. Morally, it is also undermining both the military’s mission and the oath. The mission is to protect Americans and act as a global force for good if you consider globalization. The military is not responsible for turbocharging the climate crisis or undermining it. We need to put additional pressure on them to disclose their massive carbon footprint and reduce it.

AMY GOODMAN: To put Juan’s more eloquent question into — I remember this sad joke with the U.S. invasion of Iraq, a little boy saying to his father, “What’s our oil doing under their sand?” I was wondering if you can elaborate more, Erik Edstrom, on what constitutes military emissions. What does the Pentagon know? I mean, for years, when we were covering the Bush wars, under George W. Bush, there was the — we would always cite that they’re not talking about their own Pentagon studies saying climate change is the critical issue of the 21st century. But what do they really know about the issue and the role played by the Pentagon in polluting our planet?

ERIK EDSTROM:I think there is a sense that the military’s top brass understands that climate change is a serious threat. But there is a disconnect. That is a point where tension is created. What is the military going do about it and its own emissions? If the military would disclose its entire carbon footprint on a regular basis, it would be very embarrassing and put tremendous pressure on the U.S. military for reducing those emissions. It is easy to understand their hesitation.

However, it is important to count military emissions because it doesn’t matter where they come from. It doesn’t matter whether it comes from a military or civilian aircraft. We must count every ton of emissions, regardless of whether it is politically inconvenient to do this. Without this disclosure, we are blind. We need to know where and how many military emissions are coming from in order to prioritize decarbonization efforts. This will allow politicians and leaders to make informed decisions about which sources to shut down. Are they from overseas bases? Is it a specific vehicle platform? These numbers will not be available until then, and we won’t make smart decisions intellectually or strategically.

AMY GOODMAN: A new research from Brown University’s Costs of War project shows that the Department of Homeland Security has been overly focused on foreign and foreign-inspired terrorism, while violent attacks in the U.S. have more often come from domestic sources, you know, talking about white supremacy, for example. Neta Crawford is here. She’s just outside the COPRight now, the U.N. summit. She’s the co-founder and director of the Costs of War project at Brown. She’s a professor and department chair of political science at Boston University. Professor Crawford, we welcome you back to Democracy Now!Why are you attending the climate summit? We often just talk to each other about the costs of war.

NETA CRAWFORD:Amy, thank you.

I’m here because there are several universities in the U.K. which have launched an initiative to try to include military emissions more fully in the individual countries’ declarations of their emissions. Every year, every country that’s in Annex I — that is, the parties to the treaty from Kyoto — have to put some of their military emissions in their national inventories, but it’s not a full accounting. And that’s what we’d like to see.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ:Neta Crawford could you speak about what isn’t being monitored or registered in terms of military matters? It’s not just the fuel that powers the jets of an air force or that powers ships, as well. What are some aspects of the U.S. military’s carbon footprint that people don’t pay attention to, given the number of military bases the United States has all over the globe?

NETA CRAWFORD: OK, I think there’s three things to keep in mind here. First, there are emissions from installation. The United States has about 750 military installations abroad, overseas, and it has about 400 in the U.S. And most of those installations abroad, we don’t know what their emissions are. Because of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol decision, those emissions were either excluded or made count for the country where the bases are located.

So, the other thing that we don’t know is a large portion of emissions from operations. Kyoto decided to exclude operations from wars that were approved by the United Nations, or other multilateral organizations. These emissions are therefore excluded.

There’s also something known as — called bunker fuels, which are the fuels used on planes and aircraft — I’m sorry, aircraft and ships in international waters. Most of the United States Navy’s operations are in international waters, so we don’t know those emissions. These are exempted. Those are excluded because of 1997’s DODA memo was sent to the White House stating that missions could mean that the U.S. military would have to reduce its operations. They also stated in a memo that a 10% reduction of emissions would result in a lack in readiness. The United States would be unable to do two things if it was not ready. The first would be to be militarily dominant and wage war anywhere at any time, and then secondly, not to be able to address what they saw as the climate crises that we would face. Why was this so important in 1997? Because they had been studying and documenting the climate crisis since at least the 1950s and 1960s. They were also well aware of the harmful effects of greenhouse gasses. So, that’s what’s included and what’s excluded.

And there’s another large category of emissions we don’t know about, which is any emission coming out of the military-industrial complex. All the equipment we use must be made somewhere. It comes largely from large military-industrial companies in the United States. Some of those corporations acknowledge their, what are known as direct and somewhat indirect emissions, but we don’t know the entire supply chain. I estimate that the top military industrial companies have emitted roughly the same amount as the military’s annual greenhouse gas emissions. So, really, when we think about the entire carbon footprint of the United States military, it has to be said that we’re not counting all of it. And in addition, we’re not counting Department of Homeland Security emissions — I haven’t counted them yet — and those should be included, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to —


AMY GOODMAN: Go ahead, Juan.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ:Could you also talk about burning pits? The U.S. military must be unique in the world, that wherever it goes, it always ends up destroying stuff on the way out, whether it’s a war or an occupation. Could you also speak about burn pits?

NETA CRAWFORD: I don’t know as much about burn pits, but I do know something of the history of the environmental destruction that any military makes. From colonial times to the Civil War, where the Civil War log structures were made of entire forests or roads made from trees, the United States has been a source of environmental destruction. The United States has occupied areas, forests and jungles where insurgents might hide, both in the Civil War and the Revolutionary War.

Burn pits are part of a larger disregard for the environment and the atmosphere, the toxic environment. Even the toxic chemicals that have leaked from fuel containers are toxic. So, there’s a — as both of the other speakers have said, there’s a larger environmental damage footprint that we need to think about.

AMY GOODMAN:Finally, in 1997, a group neoconservatives including the future vice president, Halliburton, formed. CEODick Cheney, who argued for exempting all military emission from the Kyoto Protocol, supported this position. In the letter, Cheney, along with Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick, former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, wrote, by “exempting only US military exercises that are multinational and humanitarian, unilateral military actions — as in Grenada, Panama and Libya — will become politically and diplomatically more difficult.” Erik Edstrom, your response?

ERIK EDSTROM:It will be much more difficult, I believe. As citizens engaged in the process, it is our responsibility to press our government to address this existential threat. If our government fails to act, we must elect new leaders who will do the right things and put forth the effort required. The world is dependent on it.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’re going to end it there but, of course, continue to follow this issue. Erik Edstrom, a West Point graduate and Afghan War vet is here. He studied climate at Oxford. His book is Un-American: A Soldier’s Reckoning of Our Longest War. Ramón Mejía is inside the COPGrassroots Global Justice Alliance national anti-militarism activist. He is a Iraq War veteran. He has been active in protests both within and outside the country. COPIn Glasgow. Neta Crawford, Costs of War Project at Brown University, is also available. She’s a professor of political science at Boston University.

Stella Moris is our host when we return. She’s the partner of Julian Assange. So, what’s she doing at Glasgow, as she talks about how WikiLeaks exposed the hypocrisy of wealthy nations in addressing the climate crisis? And why isn’t she and Julian Assange — why aren’t they able to marry? Is Britain saying no to the Belmarsh jail authorities? Stay with me.