Two weeks ago, the Washington Post reported that the US Army had just released its “first ever climate strategy.” Generals and other strategists have argued for years that climate change will act as a “threat multiplier,” worsening violent conflict within and between countries, and the Pentagon, National Security Council, and CIA detailed the latest implications in a series of reports last October.
Now, we’re told, the Pentagon is serious about reducing its own substantial carbon footprint — which, the Post explains, makes up 56 percent of the federal government’s emissions and 52 percent of its electricity use. How serious? Their “ambitious goals” include:
Carbon-free electricity for installations by 2030. Net zero emissions from Army installations by 2045. An increasingly electrified vehicle fleet, including developing electric tactical vehicles — the ones that actually drive out into combat — by 2050. Microgrid installations on all Army posts by 2035, paving the way for increased renewable energy. Thinking more about climate issues when making decisions about how the Army manages its vast land holdings.
Left out of the Post article and US Army press release is a key bit of context: the global scale of the US Army’s current carbon footprint. According to political scientist Neta Crawford, codirector of Brown University’s Costs of War project, the Department of Defense is the world’s largest institutional user of petroleum and its single largest institutional producer of greenhouse gases. The Pentagon produces more emissions than entire developed countries such as Sweden, Denmark, and Portugal. For the last forty years, its entire military strategy was premised on protecting access to Persian Gulf oil — as in so many other cases, helping to create the enemy it now fights.
There’s another bit of context absent from the Post story. It is well known that parties to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol bent over backward to accommodate US preferences. The key questions were: Would the United States commit to binding emissions targets? And would “key developing countries” such as India, China, and Mexico make their own pledges? In a 95-0 vote just months before countries met in Kyoto to sign the agreements, the US Senate (in the form of the bipartisan Byrd-Hagel resolution) provided an answer: the United States would agree to binding limits only if China and India also made pledges, and it wouldn’t sign any agreement that might harm the US economy.